Hakozakigu Shrine Flea Market 2016

This Sunday, the streets surrounding Hakata’s Hakozakigu Shrine saw the arrival of one of Kyushu’s most comprehensive flea markets. These usually quiet alleyways, leading up to the grand but peaceful shrine, were transformed into bustling thoroughfares filled with people busy browsing, buying and selling. The weather was overcast and slightly dreary but that did nothing to dampen spirits or hurt the turnout, as the market was alive with activity from 8am till well past noon.

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Stretching from the seafront to the shrine itself, the street was lined with over 200 stalls displaying their wares, usually out of the back of their owners’ cars. As expected, there was an impressive range of items on offer. Some goods were more obviously practical than others, but most managed to combine utility with a retro, homey aesthetic in tune with the market as a whole. Although one would not find designer clothing or typical tourist items, many other tastes were catered for and most objects had a distinctly well-loved look which contributed to their appeal.

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Some items were useful, such as the many pieces of ornate furniture, beautiful fabrics, and colourful backpacks on display. There was plenty of quirkily designed kitchenware, watering cans and umbrellas, as well as more traditional garden tools, glassware and winter clothing for sale. Other items were purely decorative. I loved the old posters and merchandise, especially the 1960s era Coca-Cola placards, toys from 1990s anime programmes and pre-WW2 telephones. We spotted a great collection of garden gnomes and old licence plates and a stall dedicated entirely to vinyl. Food-wise, there were only a few stalls offering snacks, but these did not disappoint. I enjoyed a piece of grilled octopus for 100 yen, served by a friendly yakitori seller who had a wide assortment of grilled meats.

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In contrast to markets which I’ve visited before, the air around Hakozaki was not filled with the cries of vendors flogging their goods or punters loudly haggling. If there were negotiations afoot over the price of certain objects, they were performed discreetly. But it looked as though products were being exchanged in a quiet, dignified way, with customers usually accepting the advertised price. This probably reflects the fact that the prices were reasonable, with many quirky, beautiful objects, (particularly vintage toys, posters and pieces of furniture) costing less than 1000 yen and frequent deals on sets. Unlike in many markets outside Japan, the Japanese vendors did not jump out at customers and pressure them into perusing their stock. Instead, most calmly reclined in camping chairs and let the customers come to them, in the mean time chatting amicably to neighbouring stall holders or advising prospective buyers. Some just sat in their chairs, umbrellas in hand, and quietly took in the scene. We never felt any pressure to buy – which was a welcome shopping experience!

My friends took the opportunity to stock up on some Christmas gifts, buying some Kyushu pottery, Hello-Kitty stationery and even a Viking-esque drinking horn. All of the stall owners and the majority of the visitors were Japanese, and the market had a distinctly non-touristy feel, which we appreciated. A few foreigners were browsing around, and one, Aisleign Brehony, originally from Ireland and now an English teacher at the Fukuoka International School, remarked: “This is the first market I’ve been to in Japan and it has a bit of everything. Shopping in Japan tends to be expensive but this is much more affordable. It’s great for pre-Christmas shopping for my friends who live in Japan.”

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We were treated to the sight of children dressed in full kimono heading, with their families, into the Hakozakigu Shrine. They were arriving for the annual autumnal 7-5-3 (“shichigosan”) ceremonies. For this rite of passage, girls of three and seven and boys of three and five are taken by their families to shrines to be presented to Ujigami, the Shinto guardian god of good health. A purification rite is performed and a norito Shinto prayer is recited for the children’s health. As well as good health, the children are also gifted chitose ame, long-stick candy, and we saw lots of happy children in kimono eating these after their turn at the shrine.

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It was fascinating to see this ritual in action and the colours of the kimono stood out against the grey of the day. Overall the market was a great experience, whether one bought something or not. I would recommend the market and any like it to people looking for alternative present ideas or to decorate their living spaces with something a bit different.

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Report by William Carter for Fukuoka Now

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