I’m yet to fulfill my dream of appearing on Antiques Roadshow but this weekend I came one step closer! Every fourth Sunday of the month, the steps leading up to the beautiful Toshogu Shrine in Sendai City become a mecca for treasure hunters, history buffs and antique enthusiasts. The Toshogu Antique Market is so much more than just a flea market or trash & treasure kind of event; around 20 vendors set up shop between 7am ~ 3pm selling everything from vintage kimono, traditional Japanese pottery, antique furniture and ornaments, kokeshi dolls, hand-crafted knives and gardening tools, pre-war signage, photos and postcards, ukiyo-e prints, vintage toys and other miscellaneous treasures – each with its own fascinating story.
Unlike shopping at regular antique and furniture stores, the vendors here are very open to bargaining! I overheard several (albeit very polite) bargaining battles, most resulting in the customer walking away with a treasured item bought at a very reasonable price. Be warned – the vendors don’t generally have a lot of English, but if you are friendly enough I am sure you can still have a lot of fun bargaining via broken Japanese and gestures. I particularly enjoyed watching elegant kimono-clad ladies perusing the piles and piles of vintage kimono and kimono-accessories, almost yelping with excitement when they came across something of value. I had absolutely no idea what I was looking at, but each piece still seemed far too beautiful for the price tag – some as low as 600 yen! It was a struggle to tear myself away without buying a full wardrobe.
I felt deeply upset that I hadn’t known about this market when I first moved to Sendai and had a new apartment to furnish! The sheer amount of beautiful and unique (and cheap!!) furniture, including traditional Japanese ‘tansu’ cabinets and bamboo folding screens, was overwhelming! Not to mention boxes upon boxes of very tempting pottery, assorted crockery, teapots and tea cups. A particularly colourful bowl caught my attention. After a friendly chat to the vendor I discovered that what I’d thought was simply a nicely decorated bowl for everyday use was actually a wedding gift from the Edo period (and incidentally came as part of a set of five, valued at only 4000 yen a piece)!
Of course, just like any antique market, you do have to do a bit of digging to find the treasure for you, but the process is a whole lot of fun! I almost felt like an archaeologist or historian delving into a time capsule as I sifted through box after box of vintage posters, postcards, old cameras, toys and other mysteries! There were even albums of personal photos and letters…I wish I could have read the beautiful hand-written characters for a clue of who they once belonged to and the stories each piece would tell.
Whilst it’s very easily to become absorbed in the market, of course the grand Toshogo Shrine looming atop the stone-lantern lined staircase is, in itself, a treasure worth checking out!
Not to be mistaken with other famous Toshogu Shrines dedicated to the memory of Tokugawa Ieyasu (the most famous located in Nikko), this particular Toshogu Shrine was constructed in 1654 by Date Masamune’s son Date Tadamune, the second generation lord of the Mutsu Sendai domain. Inside the shrine grounds you can find a plethora of designated ‘important cultural properties’ including the main hall itself. Currently, the forest surrounding the shrine is brilliant green with fresh summer foliage. However, there are also many cherry trees planted in the grounds making it a popular local destination for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in early spring.
If you love a bit of history or have an eye for authentic art, antiques or interior design, I cannot recommend a visit to this market enough! It really does feel like a treasure hunt and you are bound to uncover something precious and unexpected.
It is incredibly easy to access the area, too. The shrine is located around a 3 minute walk from Toshogu Station on the JR Senzan line (a 5 minute train ride from Sendai Station). There is also free parking available for those coming by car.
A word of warning! Whilst the market is advertised as being open from 7am ~ 3pm (only on the fourth Sunday of the month!), you really need to get there early to make sure you don’t miss out! The stalls certainly attract a crowd and some vendors have been known to start packing up shop around 1pm. It is recommended to try to arrive before 11am, if you can!
The next scheduled market will be Sunday, June 24 ~ see you there!
Toshogu Shrine Antique Market
When: the fourth Sunday of each month
Hours: 7am ~ 3pm (some shops may close earlier. Best to get there before 11am)
Where: Toshogu Shrine, Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture (Homepage: http://s-toshogu.jp/)
Access: Toshogu Station, JR Senzan line (5 min train ride from Sendai Station). The shrine is about a 3 minute walk from the station.
1 Chome-6-1 Tōshōgū Aoba-ku, Sendai-shi, Miyagi-ken 981-0908