Going to the To-ji Flea Market this past weekend made me reminisce about the first time that I went there. I had been living in Japan for a little over a month and it was cherry blossom season. Over lunch one day, Trisha, another ex-pat, and I decided we should go check out the blossoms in Kyoto that upcoming weekend. I already had plans on Saturday but Trisha wanted to go for the whole weekend, so I met Trisha early Sunday morning at Kyoto Station.
I had read about the flea market at To-ji that is held on the first Sunday of the month and since it was happening that day and To-ji is not too far from Kyoto Station we decided to start our day there. We had an awesome time looking through all the fun items and finding treasures. We happened upon a lady selling a wide selection of beautiful scrolls and Trisha found one that she loved. It was expensive, however, and Trisha had already used most of her cash to pay for her hotel room the night before so we set off to find an ATM.
We asked directions to the nearest bank, but despite trying a few times, Trisha's bank card didn't work. There was another bank right across the street so she tried there with still no luck. She then tried an ATM in a convenience store but got denied there as well. As it turns out, her bank had a holiday that day and in Japan that means you cannot access your money in any way, including ATM withdrawls. Being Americans, Trisha and I were completely caught off guard because ATMs are always available in the US. Since my bank was the same as Trisha's I was stuck in the same situation of not being able to withdraw any money.
I had headed off to Kyoto without much cash planning on taking some money out when I got there so between the two of us we had only about ¥3000 ($30 at the time). In the US that wouldn't be a big deal since you can use a credit card for just about anything. Cash is king in Japan, however, and you can't use credit cards in a lot of places. Luckily, we could buy our shinkansen train tickets home using a credit card but we had to make do with cash for everything else. With entrance fees for our planned stops running ¥300-¥500 each we were on a tight budget for the day and buying anything else at To-ji market was out of the question.
We went back to scroll stand to explain that Trisha would not be able to buy the scroll after all. The lady seemed to indicate that Trisha could still have the scroll. "What is she saying?" Trisha asked me. "I think she is saying that if you give her your address she'll send it to you and you can pay then," I replied, "but I could totally be misunderstanding her." Trisha figured it was worth a shot and after writing down her address we were on our way.
For the rest of the day we scrimped by walking everywhere and eating a lunch of America Dogs (Japanese for corn dogs) from a convenience store. We went to Nijo-jo castle to wander through its famous cherry tree groves and then headed to Maruyama Park (free!) to see its huge famous weeping cherry tree. Maruyama Park also turned out to be great for people watching with thousands there for hanami (blossom watching) parties with food and drinks spread out on blankets beneath the trees. We splurged on a yatai (food stall) snack at the park and headed up the hill to Kiyomizu-dera. The sun was low in the sky at this point and we had picture perfect views of the sunset over Kyoto and the temple ringed by blossoming cherry trees. It had turned out to be a great day despite our morning mishap and we headed back home happy but ready to get some money out first thing on Monday.
A few days later Trisha's scroll showed up in the mail as promised and this time she was armed with the cash to pay for it. As for me, from that point on I always made sure to have plenty of cash on hand because you never know when a bank holiday can creep up on you and catch you unawares.