Friday, November 12, 2004

Kyoto flea market

Kyoto flea market

Updated 03:27am (Mla time) Nov 12, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the November 12, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

COMMEMORATIVE car plates are popular these days. Those who sport these car plates advertise their support for a worthy cause and some even think these plates exempt them from the color-coding scheme.

If people want to celebrate a milestone event or the establishment of a certain organization, why don't they just put stickers on windshields rather than announce it on car plates?

Perhaps the Land Transportation Office should require commemorative plates to be displayed in the rear rather than the front of vehicles so that eagle-eyed traffic enforcers can still implement color-coding.

To complicate matters, the National Historical Institute has to certify the "historical significance" of the event being commemorated in a proposed commemorative car plate. Often the only significance is that the requesting party is a hundred years old, while others claim notable existence in increments of 25, 50 and 75 years. All this looks so simple, until someone decides to celebrate in between those years.

Time provides the perspective that helps us see historical significance or at the very least longevity. Teodoro Agoncillo used to say that the historian should wait at least 20 years before commenting on something. To some, two decades may be a long time to wait for historical perspective, but this is merely a wink when you visit a place like Kyoto which was the capital of Japan for over a thousand years.

Riding a bicycle through an ancient city like Kyoto is humbling for a Filipino historian who can only look back a century to our declaration of independence, four centuries to the founding of Spanish Manila. Filipinos think a decade is a long time, while the Japanese reckon age in millenniums.

In this context, it really stretches the imagination to have some obscure Philippine organization claiming "historical significance" when it is not even a quarter of a century old.

The same can be said of antiques. What is the cut-off point? Does a hundred years make something antique? Maybe 60 years, the same age we declare someone a senior citizen?

If you go by the sales pitch of Ermita antique dealers, their benchmark is a "century old." This is quite vague because dating is problematic especially in places were something made in the 1800s is described as dating to the "18th century."

Antique shops can be an informal history lesson. Last Sunday, we visited the Toji temple market in Kyoto which has a flea market on the first Sunday of every month. Like flea markets in other places in the world, it offers a wide range of things to choose from, depending on your taste and budget. Everything from authentic antiques to fakes, reproductions and plain junk can be had in makeshift stalls. (Some dealers sell out of the trunks of parked cars.)

Everyone knows, of course, that there are no real bargains or fabulous finds to be made in flea markets these days because the professional dealers arrive very early and buy whatever is noteworthy. Yet going to a flea market is a challenge: looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack and haggling to get the price down to an acceptable level. In a sense, the thrill is in the chase not the acquisition.

Casilda Luzares, who allowed us to camp out in her beautiful Kyoto home, a spit away from the Imperial Palace grounds, complained that she merely accompanied me to the flea market but ended up buying more than I did. Worse, when she got home, she wondered why she bought those odds and ends in the first place.

There are many foreigners in the flea markets, mostly tourists looking for souvenirs and some professional interior decorators. You have a wide assortment here: delicate porcelain (some of them pornographic), blown-glass and exquisite lacquerware. Old cabinets, chests, chairs and doors. Bronze objects and samurai paraphernalia. Walking through the stalls is like going through a museum exhibition of Japanese material culture.

My friend was on the look-out for vases in ceramic and bronze to be used in ikebana floral arrangements. He mistook a piss pot for a unique vase and was fortunately stopped before he pulled out his wallet.

Used or, should I say pre-owned, kimonos abound here and sell quickly. Both Japanese and foreigners can be seen rummaging through mountains of old clothing competing for the best bargain. You can buy something simple to wear or the more extravagant ones can be framed and hung on a living room wall.

The long sash or obi is another favorite souvenir item because this can be used back home as visually stunning table runners, or wall hangings. You can even cut it up into unique place mats. Now that's recycling at its best.

One can never tell what you will find in these places. Ever an optimist, I hoped to find a Fernando Amorsolo landscape brought home by a Japanese soldier during the war as a souvenir or war booty. Perhaps Fernando Zobel's experiments with calligraphy discarded in some hotel room 50 years ago will find its way to the flea market.

The only Filipiniana I have seen in the temple market are the wooden "man-in-the-barrel" from Baguio that may soon be rare collector's items if prudes have their way and ban them. Can we be represented in flea markets by some other artifact than this?


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