Christmas Day in Kyoto dawned bright and sunny though still very cold at about 5C.
Kyoto resident and good friend Meiko san had made a date to meet up with us on Christmas Day.
I asked her to take us to the flea market at the Kitano Tenmangu shrine, which coincidentally, is held on the 25th day of each month.
I had read that Tenjin san, as it is called, was one of the major flea markets in the area so of course I had to go and see it.
Marche aux Puces, Kyoto style!
Perhaps because it was Christmas day, the crowds seemed unusually thick. We had to literally elbow our way through the crush of people when we got to the entrance of the shrine.
Meiko san said that this was her first time in this flea market and she found it quite an experience as well. This flea market is one of the two more well known ones in Kyoto -- the other is the flea market held every 21st of the month at the Toji Temple.
This lady was selling chocolate covered bananas that were too irresistible to pass by.
There was even a stall selling fresh fish. This man had very fresh looking salmon.
Tenjin san has many stalls aimed at young children such as this booth with an interesting assortment of both traditional and modern toys.
There are game booths where kids can try their hand at winning prizes. It was just like one big happy "perya" or country fair.
The ultimate destination is at the end of the flea market grounds. This large wooden gate marks the entrance to the Kitano Tenmangu shrine. I think it is one of the most beautiful gates that I have seen not just in Kyoto but in Japan.
The shrine is one of the more important shrines in Kyoto. Dedicated to a renowned scholar, Suguwara Michizane, Kitano Tenmangu has been around since 950 AD and is associated with Tenjin, the Shinto god for education.
Meiko san said that it is a major destination for students, as they seek help for success in their studies and exams.
A number of statues of oxen are found in Kitano Tenmangu because Michizane san was born in the year of the ox. Most of the visitors who come here rub the ox statues as a way to get good luck.
This particular statue made of multi coloured stone is said to have healing powers. Meiko san told me to rub a part of the ox's body corresponding to a part of my body that has pain or illness and that illness would be transferred to the ox.
Further inside the shrine grounds is this hall where a long line of people have queued up to ring the bell and pay their respects to the Shinto god. Meiko san said that Shinto gods were like humans -- not omnipresent and so, were not always in the shrine -- you rang the bell to summon them to come and give their blessing.
As in other temples and shrines, wooden tablets such as these are for writing petitions and wishes on.
Note the plum blossom design on the lantern. The plum tree was a particular favourite of Michizane san and they are planted all over the grounds.
If it were spring, the hundreds of plum trees in Kitano Tenmangu shrine would be in full bloom and would be such a sight to behold. But for now, I had to content myself with looking at their leafless twigs and imagining their springtime beauty.
The wide array of local food stalls has made me decide to have an impromptu picnic lunch at Kitano Tenmangu.
It would be a different and delicious way to enjoy a Christmas day meal. Karaage, sold from a vendor and placed in a small paper cup, was bite sized, piping hot, perfectly crusted and to quote the Colonel -- finger licking good!
One stall was selling okonomiyaki, a traditional Kansai and Osaka dish. The vendor said his okonomiyaki was "Hiroshima" style and this meant that in addition to the batter, vegetables, seafood and meat, it also had noodles.
Hiroshima style okonomiyaki was really good. The noodles made for slightly toasted crust which enhanced the soft creaminess of the batter and the vegetables. The generous serving of bonito flakes on top was the delightful coup de grace.
I smelled before I saw these rolls grilling on a bamboo mat and couldn't resist asking about them. The vendor said it was butabara or pork belly. That's bacon to me!
I bought one and before he handed it to me, he put some cheese on top and melted it with a mini blowtorch.
Biting into the roll, you get the smoky flavour of the bacon or butabara and the gooey goodness of melted cheese. Inside is soft slightly sticky Japanese rice. What a genius combination!
The takoyaki vendor was a popular favourite. Like okonomiyaki, takoyaki is an Osaka and Kansai "soul food" . Big, plump, glazed with sauce and topped with a sprinkle of herbs, each ball was a mouthful of bliss.
What's a picnic lunch without beer? Asahi Super Dry added to our Christmas cheer.
This is Meiko san who was so generous with her time and friendship, making sure that we would not feel lonely in Kyoto on Christmas day. It must have been so tiring to walk all over the flea market, in the biting cold and then have to sit on hard wooden benches for a very casual outdoor picnic lunch.
Christmas in Kyoto was definitely a different experience -- yet one to treasure and remember in the years to come. Merii kurisumasu mina san!
Note : thanks to my son Gani and husband Jay for some of the photos used in this post.