While Tokyo has its bustling gift shop filled Asakusa outdoor market, it's fitting that Kyoto - where old Japan gracefully coexists with the 21st century - is home to antiques-rich markets like Kobo-san and the slightly smaller Tenjin-san market (held four days later at the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine).
At booth after booth, tables are filled with remnants and swatches of vintage silks, racks are packed with flowing secondhand kimonos and the cotton robes called yukatas; tables brim with chestnut-size beads of red coral; tarpaulins on the ground show off handmade pottery and Japanese bric-a-brac.
There are hand-carved Buddhist altars; vintage sumi-e brush paintings; pickled vegetables; dried squid; bonsai - seemingly any and all varieties of otakara, "unexpected good things" in Japanese.
For flea-market fanciers like Nishikawa, Kobo-san is otakara in itself. It doesn't matter that she doesn't buy anything at the first booth she stops at. There are hundreds of others to shop, delicacies to eat along the way, like tako yaki (octopus fritters) and okonomiyaki (a pancake-like sandwich), and plenty of atmosphere to drink in.
And throw in, of course, the thrill of the hunt inherent in any good flea market. The tease that you may find something here that you will find nowhere else - a metal totemlike sculpture from an Osaka public garden, ornaments from Japanese barrel-tile roofs -and, perhaps, a find like this at a bargain price. We had this joy when we unearthed from a box of sashes a 50-year-old obi, dyed with the Japanese shibori technique, for about $40 (online, vintage sashes such as this run about $95 and up).
Daiki Kashitani, a 22-year-old student from Kobe, shopped both markets in July and came to the conclusion that, though prices are good at Tenjin-san, "they're much cheaper at Toji [Kobo-san]."
Used kimonos sell for $50 to $100; obis, $20 to $65.
Silkmakers sell no-ren - the silk-screened curtains hung in front of Japanese shops, restaurants and in homes - for about $10.
But what we found to be even more exciting was the opportunity to discover contemporary Japanese artisans. Sitting near a Kobo-san booth filled with breathtakingly intricate statues of buddhas and altars, Hiro Ohara of Saitama City, north of Tokyo, carves a piece of byakudan, a rare and fragrant sandalwood.
Ohara quit the life of a Japanese businessman about six years ago and turned to the craft his ancestors had honed for 250 years.
Some statues are carved completely by hand by Ohara and his assistants. Others start with machines but are finished by hand.
His 4-inch statues - chiseled out of a leaf-shaped background with a matching hinged cover - sell for about $158 (online, similar statues sell for $258). Three-sided, 12-inch-tall altars containing replicas of carvings in 9th -century temples sell for $500.
We also meet glassblower Ikuo Hayashi, who travels four hours from Wakayama to Kobo-san each month to sell the wares he makes from Osaka whiskey bottles and colored wine bottles: sun catchers, about $2.50 to $5; hanging wall vases, about $18.
Hayashi has a prime spot at Toji, right in the shadow of the temple's famous pagoda.
The five-story pagoda, the tallest in Japan, was originally built in 826 but was burned down four times. The structure standing today was rebuilt in 1644 by the third Tokugawa Shogun Iemitsu.
Both markets offer great history as well as great finds.
The largest and oldest market in Japan, Kobo-san began 700 years ago, when merchants turned out to cater to the pilgrims who came to pay respects to Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism.