As nice as it has been to live in Japan for five years, it’s time to say good bye. This year will be my last year here (at least living here, I’ll probably return to visit because this is such an amazing country). The reality is that my passions are taking me back west and as much as I love my present life, it is difficult, if not impossible to plan for a future here. That and I’ve run to the end of my visa game, so even if I wanted to stay, I can’t.
But farewell doesn’t have to be entirely tears. I’ve had some great, memorable experiences in Japan and I’d like to share them with you all in a new feature: things I’ll miss when I leave Japan. Starting with:
Alex and I went to the Chionji monthly flea market today. Every big temple in Kyoto has a monthly flea market set out on a specific day, rain or shine. These are great community events where local craftsmen, artists, venders and anyone with some junk to move out of their attic can set up a stall for a modest fee and try to sell their goods to the hundreds of people who turn up. What you’ll find can range from traditional handcrafts and toys to glass jewelry to hand stitched clothing and so much more.
The crowds can get pretty intense, and in the tightly packed temple grounds as the day progresses it can become a challenge to even stop to see what the venders are selling, let alone buy anything. It’s best to go early. Most temples open their doors at 9am, so if you arrive at 8:30, you should have a good hour or two to check everything out before the crowds get too thick.
While the organizers try to set everything up in neat, orderly rows, the layout of the grounds can make this difficult, thus leaving it easy to miss out on whole sections of the bazaar. This makes going early even more important, so you can formulate a plan to traverse the broken grid as effectively as possible.
If the bazaar has food stalls, definitely get in there and grab some. Yakisoba, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and candied fruit are flea market and festival favorites. I was a bit disappointed to see that Chionji really only had a couple bakeries and a coffee stand. I love getting some takoyaki and tayaki when I go to these big community events.
If you can, go with a friend. You’re going to need someone to help you hold your bags of purchases, and also someone to be the voice of reason when your wallet starts to feel a bit light. There are so many delightful things to purchase at the bazaar that it can be hard to say no. If you get there early enough, you can drift around and price compare before you make your final purchase. It’s very rare that the goods you’re looking at are unique in the market (but if they are, scoop them up!)
Absolutely talk to the venders if you can. Even if you think your Japanese isn’t so good, chances are that your rudimentary skills will be a big surprise to people who aren’t used to foreigners speaking any Japanese. You’ll find that people who appear to be cold or stand-offish to foreigners are usually just shy, because they don’t think they’ll be able to communicate [in English]. Put on your bravery cap and try your best with Japanese and you’ll be surprised how quickly people warm up to you. Older Japanese folks especially are keen to share their stories, their experiences and their humor with foreigners who take the time to engage them in their native language.
Finally, take the time to just soak up the atmosphere. Community events are a big deal in Japan where relationships with neighbors are so important that it’s an unwritten (sometimes it actually is written) rule that you must give your new neighbors a gift when you move into a new house. Knowing the people who live and work near you and cultivating those relationships is one of the little spoken of pleasures of living in Japan. When you go to a flea market, despite the crowds or the weather or losing out on an item you really had your eye on, take a moment to take it all in and feel the community vibrate through the stones and in the air. We had many people ask where we were from. Many were surprised to learn that we lived in Kyoto. They asked if this was our first time at Chionji, and invited us to live in Japan for as long as we liked. This is one of the things I’ll miss when I leave Japan.