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Flea Markets of Japan: A Pocket Guide for Antique Buyers


- list of 115 flea markets—plus detailed directions for getting there
- names and descriptions of about 450 antiques and artifacts
- photographs of the most popular items for sale
- "survival kit" of over 250 shopping-related Japanese words and phrases
- complete explanation of flea-market bargaining techniques, including tips for getting the lowest price and a special section on etiquette

To the Japanese antique enthusiast, flea markets are collectively known as a source of rare finds, a treasure trove of bargains, and the most freewheeling, exciting place to shop. But for the Western shopper, the prospect of uncovering what these modern-day bazaars have to offer may be somewhat daunting. Besides the language barrier, there is the need to bargain for every purchase, concern about unscrupulous vendors, and difficulty when it comes to ascertaining an unknown item's name, origin, and uses — not to mention determining a fair price.

This is the first-ever book written to help non-Japanese cope with the challenges of shopping at flea markets, enabling them to go out and get the goods they are after. The book starts with a general orientation, discussing the advantages of flea markets over antique stores, and the availability, quality, and prices of antiques sold through this channel.

Next comes a list of 115 flea markets taking place across Japan, the most comprehensive of its kind.

The heart of the book is the Things to Buy section, which gives names and descriptions for 450 antiques and artifacts, conve¬niently classified into 18 categories. Last, the section on "flea-market Japanese" supplies the shopper with the linguistic tools to bring it all together, with a "survival kit" of over 250 shopping-related Japanese words and phrases. Powerful yet easy-to-master phrases enable the shopper to communicate with vendors effectively.

Pocket-sized but packed with information, Flea Markets of japan: A Pocket Guide for Antique Buyers is the flea-market shopper's indispensable reference. For gaijin in the hunt, that killer find is now within reach.

THEODORE MANNING is an American who worked in Tokyo as a teacher, translator, and businessman for thirteen years. Inspired by the beauty of Japanese art and artifacts—and needing an affordable alternative to antique stores—he discovered flea markets to be not only the best source of bargains but also the most enjoyable way to shop for them. He is married and lives in Chicago. 



A Brief History of Flea Markets

The flea market is a comparatively recent addition to Japanese society. Although a few flea markets were established well over a hundred years ago—the market held at Toji Temple in Kyoto, for instance, dates from before the Edo period (1603-1868)—the vast majority has come into existence since 1975. This blossoming of Ilea markets has been fertilized not only by Japan's affluence but also by the development of a buyer-collector culture among antique enthusiasts; traditionally, the buying and collecting of antiques was for the most part done by museums and a few wealthy patrons of the arts.
The number of new flea markets has gradually increased since the 1970s, with a surge from the mid-1990s. One reason frequently cited for the current increase in popularity of flea markets is that after a long love affair with everything foreign, the Japanese have rekindled their affection for the traditional Japanese object.

Availability, Quality, and Prices of Antiques
The heightened popularity of flea markets has led to rapidly rising antique prices—especially for high-quality items—even as it has brought about an increase in the number of antiques in circulation.
Prices overall are rising by an estimated 10 to 15 percent each year, and for the most popular types of antiques, such as ceramics and textiles, annual price increases are on the order of 15 to 20 percent.
The implication for shoppers is clear: if you see something you like, buy it immediately. It is only going to get more expensive. Besides, if you put off purchasing something that catches your eye, you risk losing it to someone who didn't wait.
There is another reason to be in a hurry to purchase. Regardless of the increase in the number of antiques, high-quality antiques are increasingly difficult to find. Greater demand for antiques hits meanwhile pulled more items of average or below-average quality onto the market. This, in turn, has made it more important that a shopper be well informed and know how to get information from flea-market vendors and antique dealers.

Advantages of Flea Markets 

Flea markets offer several clear advantages over antique shops. These include:
• lower prices (recent price increases notwithstanding)
• the availability of a wider variety of merchandise in one place
• flexible pricing (bargaining is allowed)
• a more relaxed atmosphere
• the chance to encounter merchandise rarely appearing in antique shops (bric-a-brac and other obscure or one-off items impossible for store owners to stock regularly are some of the real finds
• a pleasant day's outing (especially for outdoor markets)
Flea markets also tend to be more exciting than antique shops owing to their bustling, convivial atmosphere.

Annoyances and Risks 

Shopping at flea markets is in most respects thoroughly pleasant, and for many visitors browsing affords as much pleasure as making an actual purchase. However, there are certain annoyances and risks of which to be aware:
• crowds and the hassles that go with them—although this is nothing new to residents of Japanese cities
• the lack of facilities or amenities, especially at outdoor markets— no parking, no toilets, no concessions, no drinking fountains, few trash cans
• no smoking, a rule enforced even at outdoor markets
• vendors with a condescending attitude towards foreigners, based on the assumption that all non-Japanese are ignorant of Japanese culture and cannot speak a word of Japanese
• vendors who try to charge unreasonably high prices (although this is uncommon)
• vendors who falsely represent merchandise, be it disguising a defect or exaggerating an item's age (although this is uncommon)
Yet, these things are precisely what a true bazaar is all about— free-wheeling atmosphere, and the kind of charm that comes from a bit of chaos.


Flea-Market Vendors

All flea-market vendors are licensed dealers of antiques. By current estimates, there are some 4.000 to 5,000 active vendors, although the number of licensed dealers, which includes antique-shop owners and others in the antique world not directly involved in selling at flea markets, is much higher. Flea-market vendors often own stores, usually in a provincial town or city, though many are itinerant vendors, selling only at flea markets.
Flea-market vendors spend much of their lime on the move, driving from one venue to the next. Many seem to have developed a local or regional circuit, appearing regularly at the venues of their choice within a reasonable driving distance from their homes. But other vendors are less tied to one location, so shoppers should not assume that a seller appearing at a certain flea market one month will be there the next—another risk of deferring a purchase. Less frequently, vendors travel longer distances in .search of more potential customers at the larger flea markets staged intermittently around Japan.
Like craftspeople and aficionados of many kinds, flea-market vendors form a loose nationwide network, operating in a small world of their own. People working on the same circuit are often well acquainted, or at least know each other. They also come into contact with each other at the larger flea markets, which tend to draw antique sellers from wider areas.
An organizer runs each flea market. The organizer (who is often a vendor as well) is responsible for finding and booking the venue, signing up sellers and collecting participation fees, allotting space, and promoting the Ilea market.
Vendors are required to pay fees to flea-market organizers, commonly in the form of rent for the space to set up displays; naturally, the larger the space, the higher the fee. Fees for indoor flea markets tend to be much higher than those for outdoor flea markets, because renting space at exhibition centers and other Indoor venues costs much more than using the grounds of a shrine or temple. Indoor flea markets usually last two or three days, whereas outdoor flea markets are usually one-day events.

Vendor Profile 

The typical vendor is a man aged between 35 and 65; the far fewer numbers of female traders tend to be in the same age range. The flea-market vendor's lifestyle is in many ways the antithesis of the company employee's, as flea-market selling is a job that generates little income, carries low status, affords no security, and offers no prospect of advancement. Those in the business are content not to belong to a large organization and comfortable with a somewhat nomadic lifestyle.
It is not that all vendors are nonconformists, but the terms "offbeat" or "unconventional" could be applied in some degree to most. There are obvious indicators, like beards and long hair, as well as more subtle manifestations, such as a relaxed and informal manner and an almost nonchalant way of addressing customers.
While most vendors have a personality suited to the job of selling antiques, not all are true antique enthusiasts—or at least they don't always act like it. A fairly large number of traders don't appear particularly interested in the merchandise they are selling, and judging from their tentative responses to questions about an item's age, origins, and uses, they don't make a serious effort to get information, either.

Sources of Antiques 

There are several ways for sellers to obtain antiques. Most antiques are acquired at auctions, which are open only to licensed dealers. Vendors sometimes buy antiques from wholesalers or dealers, who also shop at auctions but who are able to buy in bulk for a lower unit cost. Vendors occasionally buy antiques from private individuals, often obtaining things about to be thrown out.
Sellers of antiques tend to treat them as mere commodities. In this sense they are no different than any other retailers, brokers, or professional resellers, trying to earn a reasonable profit by pricing their merchandise well above cost Moreover, they are understandably reluctant to let shoppers know where and how merchandise was obtained (even if fears of leading shoppers to the source are exaggerated), and little is to be gained from pressing for this kind of information.
Establishment of New Flea Markets In response to a surge in the popularity of flea-market shopping, scores of new flea markets have been established in recent years. The organizers of flea markets have accommodated the increased number of shoppers—and the vendors who serve them—by opening up new venues. Traders who for all intents and purposes were locked out of existing locations due to a de facto monopoly of the space by established vendors have also set up new flea markets. Assuming the current popularity of flea-market shopping continues, it seems safe to say that many more flea markets will be established in the vears to come.

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