flea market

A Global Crossroads…the Flea Market at Old Jaffa

flea market old jaffa

No vacation or trip is complete for me without finding time to hunt down an antiques market or neighborhood. Even with the rampant globalization which has started to blur trade borders for even the old junk of the world, somehow each city maintains its own unique vibe when it comes to vintage. Tel Aviv was not highlighted in my post the other day as it is less a treasure trove of ancient history and more a city that feels like New York met Miami met Europe hanging out in the Middle East. And while we wanted to shop and eat at every cafe and boutique that lined the streets, we simply didn’t have the time. Instead, we prioritized Old Jaffa, perched at the southern end of town, in no small reason because of its famous flea market, Shuk HaPishpushim.

Directly next to the unmistakable clock tower and lying below the more picturesque Old City, the flea market has supposedly been in operation in this spot for over 100 years. It it quite easy to believe that to be true. Selling things from every corner of the world, from carpets and textiles (of which they had wonderful ones although I forgot to photograph them) pottery, metals, paintings, old hardware and devices, ephemera, bric-a-brac, junk and all kinds of furniture, you can imagine the ancient port being a center for trade. And in that sense the market at Old Jaffa and its big sister city Tel Aviv had something in common, a real international sensibility.

The open outdoor stalls of the flea market were in many ways an example of flea markets at their worst. There was a great deal of absolute garbage, literally things that looked and sometimes smelled as if they had been pulled from trash bins. But in between lurked some treasure, from old aluminum and enamel cookware to brass ewers and pepper grinders. Some stacks of old encaustic tiles caught my eye and I heard that unusual tiles are a fairly common find here.

encaustic tiles

My favorite find was a bin of old printing rollers, perhaps for wallpaper or fabric, I wasn’t quite sure. They were short ones or I might have bought the whole shebang to turn into lamps.


Much more impressive than the open air market was the ring of surrounding shops and more permanent covered arcades. I was amazed by the quality and variety of furnishings and objects that were available as well as artisanal jewelry, clothing and home accessories. I was very busy thinking about what I wanted and less about what a post might need so I don’t have as many personal photos that give a feel for the hustle and bustle of the place. But in addition to loads of regional items, like the giant Arabic brass and copper trays my friend almost bought until she realized they were too large and heavy to fit in her duffel, there was a treasure trove of international design.

From classic mid-century modern…

mid century modern

…to trendy rough luxe (although this is clearly all new). Does anyone else think this screams Restoration Hardware?

Restoration Hardware

My favorite shop Nekudotchen was a cornucopia of styles and periods and I would have liked to do real damage in there. They had shelves loaded with antique bottles and industrial lighting.


This tiny mint green bench would be ideal in my entryway at the beach house. I am having a fetish for benches these days, although this one has about a quarter of the size of the ones I have ordered here in Qatar.

mint green bench

And speaking of soft Scandinavian painted pieces I was desperate for this long low sideboard tucked away upstairs. It needed a wee bit of TLC but would make such a lovely TV console. The reeded glass and those kinda quatrefoil-like cutouts were darling.

gray scandinavian sideboard

Chandeliers were in no short supply – and you knew I’d be getting around to mentioning them. This antique crystal one had a really unusual shape with horizontal branched arms. There were even a few other shops lined two floors to the rafters with fixtures.

crystal chandelier

The big find of the day for me was this lavender (!) Murano glass chandelier in a small mixed shop. It was one of those have to have it moments even though I have absolutely nowhere to hang it. I played pantomime with the owner, bargaining away, but honestly the price was good from the get go. We talked about breaking down the pieces and wrapping it tightly and carrying it on with us. The big problem was that I knew we had our time banging around in open jeeps in Jordan ahead of us. Caution and common sense won out and I left it behind, although I am still carrying the shop owners card around with me.

lavender murano glass chandelier

After all, he said he could ship it…

The flea market seems to be open every day but Saturday and closes earlier on Friday. We also strolled the wonderfully restored upper city which is full of art galleries and creative boutiques and dotted around the area are numerous cafes and old local food hangouts.

Don’t miss Old Jaffa and be sure to save extra space in your suitcase!

Art…The Best Bargain at the Market

I am always asked what the best thing is to buy at a shrine sale. Indigo textiles – shibori, boro, katazome? Porcelain – Imari, Kutani, Seto? Bamboo and wood – baskets, ikanbari vases, kashigata? The assumption is always that something quintessentially Japanese is the real deal, the real steal. But the truth can be quite different. Textiles are often very expensive and for porcelain you need to really understand what you are looking at. The bamboo and wood items are easy to come by and can almost become commodities. Personally, I think art is the best bargain at the market.

1000 yen is about 10 dollars, but as the yen doesn’t go as far, it feels like only a couple of bucks. I often go through the art stacks with an eye for anything charming – Japanese provenance is not necessary – and an ear for prices. Lately I’ve been lucky, finding works on paper and canvas for about 1000 yen. Many even come in just the right frames, or ones that can be painted or spruced up. Come take a quick tour with me through my latest discoveries…

A charming French watercolor in an aged gold frame just needed to be opened and cleaned and freshened up with a colored mat.


A typical modern Japanese woodblock print had a water damaged back and mat, and even a little water damage on the print, but nothing that showed when rematted.


It’s the dotted trees with just a suggestion of cherry blossoms that sold me on this one.


An acrylic on canvas with more charm than mastery but nice color.


Sweet daisies in the oval, always a nice shape variation for an art wall. My youngest daughter claimed this one immediately.


And this weekend’s find is my favorite. This oil painting of pansies was in a big ugly frame, but I took it out and love the casual look of just the canvas on the stretcher. (And psst, truthfully, it was a bit more than 1000 yen).


You’ve seen other shrine sale art finds of mine here and here (although the butterflies weren’t 1000 yen, yet certainly a bargain), but I am not the only one to find them.  Here are some great 1000 yen finds made by readers and friends…

A 1958 Oil of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, probably painted by a local returning from vacation – the signature is a Japanese name. I often come across European scenes, particularly London or Paris, painted in all kinds of styles.


I’ve gone out of my way to show fairly non-traditional items, but you can occasionally luck into some typical Japanese art such as ukiyo-e, scrolls and katagami for bargain prices. This huge shodo (Japanese calligraphy) painting was a steal at 1000 yen. It had quite a bit of water damage which was basically erased with a damp cloth and some dish soap at home. The dramatic kanji is hito or person.


To be honest, sometimes I can clean them up myself, but other times I invest a few more yen and have my local framer (he makes house calls!) do it.

I’d love to see and hear about your art bargains!

Shrine Sale Stories…Vintage Matchboxes, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel and The 1948 London Olympics

Today was slim on the ground for shrine sales being the second Sunday of the month, but Tomioka Hachiman did not disappoint. It was a day full of friends from out-of-town and extraordinary porcelain, including a few cute and very atypical Japanese pieces bought for the beach house. The small green iris pickle dish will be perfect on the dresser or night table in the beach house guest room for holding jewelry and other trinkets.

It reminded me of the Korin Ogata screens and the garden at the Nezu Museum.

The small Imari-meets-lustreware dish has all the pretty colors in the downstairs rooms of the beach house. Don’t know how I’ll be using it – perhaps as part of a wall display, perhaps on a stack of books on the coffee table to hold olive and cherry pits.

But the person who had the most fun today was my elder daughter who happened upon a stall selling vintage matchbooks from the 1930s-1950s. We have often seen matchbox covers mounted on pages, but not often the entire matchboxes. The dealer had hundreds of them in three big boxes and she spent significant time sorting through them and putting together a charming collection which we plan to place in a shadow box frame. You’ll note her signature colors of lavender and blue.

The story comes as she was choosing her boxes. Much to her chagrin, another man came up behind and offered to buy zenbu – everything – from the dealer. It hadn’t occurred to us and we were immediately sad to see the entire collection go! Luckily, the dealer offered us a few as “service” gifts for making a purchase before he sold off the boxes. We managed to grab a few historical gems.

The first matchbox, dated 1939, features Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Imperial Hotel, with its stylized logo on one side and Mt. Fuji and an early version of the Shinkansen (bullet train) on the other.

Finished in 1923, the hotel was one of Wright’s masterpieces, famously surviving the Great Kanto Earthquake that year, and in use as the premier Tokyo hotel until 1968 when it was deemed outdated and tragically torn down.

The other matchbox could not have been more timely, featuring the 1948 London Olympics on one side and the 1952 Helsinki Olympics on the other.

Wondering what they might fetch among collectors. Ebay maybe?

Image Credits:  Iris photo by Joseph Keating, via Atsuko & Joe, Imperial Hotel postcard via Old Tokyo, all other photos by me.

Nogi No More…The Closing of Yet Another Local Shrine Sale

Goodbye ephemera and katagami lady…

Goodbye military paraphenalia guy…

Goodbye excellent porcelain dealers…

Goodbye senbei canister guy (although I don’t have your photo I know I will still see you at Kawagoe)…

Today was a gorgeous Mother’s Day, but unfortunately the closing day of an historic shrine sale at Nogi Shrine. It had dwindled to no more than about 8 antique dealers, but excellent dealers they were. My very first shrine sale experience was there and my first post ever featured it too. It was the place the Lalique lamp was bought out from under me when I turned my head. It was so close by and easy to pop into and always yielded some good treasure – I don’t think I ever left empty handed.

Word is afoot of a new sale starting up soon and close by. I’ll keep you all informed when I have fully scouted the details. Until then have a moment of silence with me at the passing of this institution.

Related Posts:
Nogizaka…A Good Place to Start
The End of an Era…Togo Shrine Sale Ends

A Real Flea Market…A Visit to the Setagaya Boroichi

Each year for the past 434, a market has been held in the Setagaya neighborhood of Tokyo on December 15th & 16th and again on January 15th & 16th. With over 750 vendors selling everything from apparel to electronics to antiques, things both old and new, as well as food stalls, flowers, and just about anything else you might imagine, the market defines what a “flea market,” as opposed to a “shrine sale” is in Japan. Called the Boroichi, or rag market, there is much to buy beyond rags, although trade in vintage and antique textiles continues to be one of its main draws.

The prices on vintage kimono and obi are unsurpassed, as demonstrated by the free-for-all at this stall selling obi for 500 yen.

New indigo dyed textiles and clothing is also available.

Perhaps my favorite thing was this dealer selling Japanese kamon (family crest) stamps. Easy to pick one up and use it to customize your correspondence, regardless of whether or not you actually have a family crest.

I also loved all the handmade housewares and baskets.

I made a few good finds, including some antique blue and white porcelain platters and interesting textiles. But by far the find of the day belonged to my sweet husband. He picked up a fancy brand, gortex coat with zip-out fleece, list priced here at 68,000yen and found on google in the USA for about $550, for all of 13,000yen. And as a result, it made him perfectly happy to carry my packages!

There is still time to visit tomorrow! Maybe it won’t be so terribly crowded on a weekday…

For more on the history of the Setagaya Boroichi, directions and maps, take a look at this 2009 article in The Japan Times or the Time Out Tokyo listing.

« Older Entries

Tokyo Jinja

Back to top