Sunday, October 05, 2014

Yamaguchi Fleamarket... one of the few good reasons to get up at 4 a.m. on a Sunday...

I have lived in Iwakuni for more than 2 years now, and I am huge fan of fleamarkets, antique shops and thrift stores. Those two facts combined should have meant that I have frequented the Yamaguchi Fleamarket at least a half dozen times by now, but it has a few things working against my attendance. 

And here they are, in no particular order:

1) It is only on the first Sunday of the month - and I often have plans that conflict with my attendance at the fleamarket.

2) It is outside. I do not like to be too hot, too cold or too rained on. So, the weather during half the months of the year or more are not very conducive to my desire to attend an outdoor fleamarket.

3) It starts at the crack of dawn. I am a night owl who must have at least 8 hours of sleep 6 out of 7 nights a week to properly function at the high level of functioning I expect from myself. I really should live in the land of the rising moon, not the rising sun. The fleamarket starts at dawn and Iwakuni is about an hour and half away. This means I have to get up between 4 and 4:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning to be driving off MCAS Iwakuni toward the Sanyo expressway by 5 a.m. And you need to go early if you want to get the best stuff. In fact, rumor has it that serious American antiquers spend the night in Yamaguchi City so that they can harass the vendors especially early, as they are setting up, to get the best items for the best prices.

Overcoming the excuses, er, reasons, above, today was the first time I had ever gone to the fleamarket. I braved the pre-dawn, cloudy morning with the Iwakuni Explorer (Hyla) and our friend Britt. You can find directions and details about the market here. If you have access to MCAS Iwakuni, there are also written directions in a spinning rack outside the ITT office in Crossroads Mall.

So, here is what I found...

Nearby parking is not easy to find. The lots surrounding the fleamarket were full by 6:45 a.m. We just happened to get lucky and a car was leaving as we pulled down a parking lot aisle. Our spot was fairly close to the fleamarket grounds, which was a good thing because we had to stop by the car halfway through our shopping experience to drop off a load of treasures before heading back for round 2. All of the signs for the parking are in Japanese. So, remember that the kanji that looks like a cactus and a square means exit, and the one that looks like an upside down Y with a square means enter. Good luck.

But here is what the fleamarket looks like as you walk in:

Rows and rows of tarps and tents, most of them blue, tell you that you are in the right place. There are all kinds of goods here... plants, kimonos, textiles, wood and metal creations, coins, vases, taxidermied sea turtles...

... dolls, toys, food, tools, fish (both figurines and live), Americana (RCA dogs, 50 cent pieces, Pepsi Cola lamps, etc.), swords, clothing, shoes, and cow horns...

I cannot begin to name it all. You just have to see for yourself. By 7:15 a.m. all three of us had already made purchases. A couple of items Britt and I got were these ito (larger, about 2-3 gallons) and isho (smaller, maybe about a quart) rice measuring containers. They used to be used by the Japanese governmental agencies when citizens paid their bills and taxes in rice.

Yes, you can try to haggle with the vendors. Ikura des ka? is how you ask how much something is. Have your phone or calculator ready so that your translation of numbers isn't faulty. You can type out what you think they said the price was and show it to the vendor to confirm you have your numbers correct. There is a big difference between 3,000 yen and 30,000 yen ($30 vs. $300). But, when negotiating, remember that some vendors, like the one below, are firm in their pricing. Don't be afraid to walk away sometimes. Multiple vendors often have the same or similar products.

I still managed to talk most of the vendors I bought from down on their prices, by 10 to 30 percent, depending on the item. Here are the treasures I brought home... I spent a total of about $150. So, starting from the two rice measuring containers and going clockwise, I got a barrel-like bucket, a teapot, a modern dragonfly stained glass lamp, a replica pistol for my 12-year-old, a bamboo toothpick (free with a sample of fried sweet potato, but I found it interesting), a metal mirror from the Edo period (about 200 years ago, I was told) that says "happy" on the back of it, and two fake plastic grenades for my 8-year-old.

The barrel bucket in the top right corner has a handle, too, and Japanese were smiling and laughing at it when I was carrying it around the fleamarket after purchasing it. I am afraid to ask why.
The mirror needs a good polishing, but you get the idea.
 I really want to know what these marks on the rice measuring containers say.

So, yes, visiting the Yamaguchi Fleamarket was fun, and it was worth getting up before dawn to go... although I will not be doing this every month. There is also a fleamarket in Hikari, which I plan to try and attend soon. But probably not in the next couple of weekends. It's already going to take me a good week or two to catch up on the sleep I missed... but at least I have some fun Japanese treasures to show for it.


Apryl Sanchez-Stevens said...

Hey Jessica...I love flea markets! This is one of those trips I will do as soon as I buy my car! Thanks for the great post...See you soon!

Jessica Guthrie said...

Thanks, Apryl!