Osukannon Antique Market

By Doug Breath

Osu temple’s antique market has long been the destination for serious shoppers. But hold on to your wallet…

Any tourist dropping by Nagoya would quickly run through the few actual spots worth visiting. Other than the outstanding Tokugawa Art Museum, which has the original Tale of Genji, there just isn’t that much to see. Of course, the truly desperate will take a chance on Nagoya Castle (ferroconcrete and the world’s only surviving Edo-period elevator!).

Or perhaps take in the staggering view from the top of Nagoya (non-)TV Tower’s 20-odd floors – don’t you think it looks like the Eiffel Tower? – Uh… actually, no, I don’t. Then, the truly bored will head over to the Noritake China Showroom… yawn.

In fact, almost anyone look for a taste of what Japan used to be like would be somewhat disappointed. Like a lot of places, Nagoya has pretty much bulldozed any reminder of a street life, and communities that dwelled in a common area, mixing commerce, religion, and culture. Temples used to serve as a focal point of the community’s life, but these days they are pretty much dedicated to bringing in enough cash to keep the monks driving a decent late model Mercedes, or bentsu as they are known in local parlance.

Of course, NAG does have it’s temples, which are pleasant enough. But temples are pretty much like cathedrals or castles; once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all. If you’ve seen ‘em all… well, have your medication adjusted.

One exception would be the Osu Kannon temple, where a piece of that old street market comes alive on the 18th and 28th of each month, when the temple holds its antiques market. And it isn’t that friendly, quaint, sanitized version either. This is about money and the highest bidder. No returns, and a sale is a sale.

I like going often, and even though I rarely buy anything, I enjoy rummaging about the knick-knacks from the old days, while haggling with the toothless men quite prepared to drag every last yen out of my pocket. They have no qualms or special discounts. Here, it’s take no prisoners. In fact, it can be quite entertaining to see them shout outrageous prices for items which could just as easily be trash as treasure.

The market may be expensive, but it has an amazing array of really cool old stuff. Though a lot of it is simply junk, it is extremely old junk. You can easily imagine a world of rickshaws and fundoshi, times when things were simpler and not mass produced. While the best buys are usually on pottery, the furniture is often exquisite, if pricey. But while things may be expensive one day, the price can vary – especially when the weather is bad.

Try to go on a gray, wet day. Not full-on downpour, but a slight drizzle. This tends to keep the crowds away, but the vendors still show up. The lack of a crowd tends to diminish the expectations of the vendors, making them more amenable to bargaining down the price.

While the morning is a good time to look, wait until the late afternoon to buy. Late in the day, especially a wet day, the vendors want to squeeze out as much profit as they can before leaving. After all, they need to pay for the costs of getting there and setting up.

Your appearance is of less importance, but everything helps. The operating thesis here is that if you look like you have money, they will want it. While the “poor student” routine may get you somewhere, generally these guys are wise enough to have run into a few English teacher spendthrifts to know a cash cow when they see one.

The action gets going early in the morning, and there is a regular crowd of vendors from around Aichi and Gifu. The vendors do vary, so if you do see something you want, best to go ahead and splurge. Chance are high that you’ll never see it again if you don’t.

The Osu Antique Market takes place on the grounds of Osu Kannon temple on the 18th and 28th of each month from early morning till late afternoon. Located in front of the big red temple (whaddaya know?!), accessible from either Osu Kannon or Kamimaezu subway stations.

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