By Downtown Julie Brown
I’m a flea market junkie from way back. Like childhood. On Saturdays my family would climb into the station wagon and hit all the neighboring garage sales to be followed by an 11 am trip to the flea market. Over breakfast we would compare our treasures and boast about who got the best deal. (Copper bottom pan – 1 dollar! CB radio – 2 bucks!, Shoe shine machine – a quarter!) Long after the need to save money was gone, the urge to find a good bargain, to dig for treasure in a pile of junk, remained. Here in Okinawa my husband and I eagerly look forward to Saturdays when we can roll out of bed at 6am, dress our two year old and head out the door sans breakfast to peruse the outdoor flea markets and dig for hidden gold.
Don’t bother looking for garage sales here, they don’t exist. Instead everyone sells their stuff at weekend flea markets hosted by the bases. Convenient, since everything and everyone are all in one place.
The flea markets are a great resource for people just moving to the island and needing some stuff or for people PCS-ing out and trying to sell some household goods and recoup some money. I love them because they offer a better selection of toys and clothes than the BX for a fraction of the cost. The majority of the toys we own are under 200 yen. In all my years of flea marketing I can safely say I have never caught any germs from used toys or clothing. I am careful to wash whatever I buy or at least wipe it down with Lysol. My friend brings Lysol wipes with her so that her kids can immediately play with the toys she buys. You can find just about anything at a flea market including electronics, books, baby gear, furniture, tools, etc. The rule about flea markets or any bargain hunting really is to shop early and shop often. Get there as early as you can and you will be assured of the best selection. Shop often and you will eventually find something you can’t live without.
The flea market schedule is as follows:
- The US Air Force holds their flea market at the Chibana Golf Course outside Gate 3 at Kadena AB. Chibana flea market is the first and third weekends of the month and officially starts at 7:00 am and ends at 9:00 am. For further information contact Kadena outdoor recreation at 634-2811.
MCCS holds their flea markets at different bases over the month. Check out this link for further info HERE.
- Camp Courtney hosts a flea market second, fourth, and fifth weekends of the month from 7am-9am. It’s located next to their commissary.
- Camp Foster is the first weekend of the month starting at noon and ending at 2pm. It is located between the BX gate and commissary gate on 58. They open up a gate for it on weekends.
- Camp Kinser hosts the third weekend of the month from noon to 2pm. Of all the flea markets this is the one I don’t attend. It has very few sellers and generally yields very few treasures given the driving time.
Flea markets are usually canceled if it’s raining. They occur on Saturdays and Sundays but Saturdays are the better days to go. On Sundays only about half the sellers show up. Schedules also change a bit over Christmas and New Year’s so check the website or call before you go.
The general public is allowed into the flea market at the official start times. You will see people lined up for a mile (remember the shop early rule). If you have SOFA status you have a big advantage as they will allow you in 30 minutes before the official starting time. When you get to the gate, literally go around all the cars in line, show your ID to the parking attendant and go on in. Seems rude I know but I do it all the time and it seems like everyone expects it. At Foster, go into the commissary gate and make your first left after the commissary. There will be a line of fenced in parking lots running parallel to 58. One of these will be open for early shopping from 11:15 on.
A few other tips on flea marketing:
Sellers generally take dollars or yen. The majority of shoppers use yen as the exchange rate is better.
There are two types of sellers. One of them is people who are military personnel getting rid of stuff. They will offer you the best prices. The others are vendors who buy things cheap from military personnel and hike up the prices for Japanese shoppers. These people usually have the most elaborate stands (tents, tables, etc) and charge the most as they are trying to make a profit. I generally try and avoid these people as I find they drive a hard bargain.
In terms of haggling, I try and approach it with the attitude that I want to pay a fair price for what I get. A fair price means what most people at the flea market would charge you for something. For example, books, toys, and clothes are 100-200 yen. DVD’s 300-700 yen. Things in really good condition will go higher and everything varies by seller. People usually sell with the idea that you will haggle a little bit. So let’s say I want that Bob the Builder book and someone says 400 yen. I’ll usually say,”Would you take 200?¨ Usually we’ll settle on 300 and if I really want it I’ll pay the 400. I’m more then happy to give someone a decent price if it’s worth it. I do not want to rip them off or force them to give me something for free. If the person wanted 1000 yen for a book that I could easily find at another stall for 200 yen, I simply say thank you and walk away. They obviously value the book more than I do. Remember, if something is too expensive just walk away, it’ll probably turn up later if you shop often. (Although if it’s a unique item you have to have, just buy it). The first few times you go to a flea market it’s worth it just to ask the price of things and get an idea of what things usually cost. Expect that you will overpay a few times until you get the hang of it. It probably won’t be by too much and definitely will be cheaper then retail.
Selling at the Flea Markets
Finally, you’ll probably need to sell the stuff that you accumulate from going to the flea market all the time. There is generally a 10-15 dollar fee to sell. (Its only a 5 dollar fee if you’re PCSing) Just sign up the week before at Outdoor Recreation for Kadena or at MCCS to reserve a spot. Call them at 634-2811. Again, I would recommend signing up for Saturday as its the busier day. Make sure to bring plastic bags for your customers and change in yen. If its your first time selling and you’re not sure how to price things I wouldn’t bother pricing ahead of time. Have an idea of about how much you want to sell things for and then the day you sell see how it goes. Ask people to make you an offer. Most shoppers will spend 100-500 yen on most items. Anything over 2000 yen takes a lot more consideration. If its something you need to make money on don’t part with it unless you get your price. You can always see if it will sell on Japanupdate. If its a case where you need to get rid of stuff, price it lower. You don’t want to be stuck throwing it away later. Most people seem to make about 150-300 dollars. Oh. And beware of vendors coming around while you’re setting up. They’ll try and buy your stuff cheap and then move it to their booth to sell. Sell them stuff only at a decent price for you or refuse to sell until the official start time. The flea market is busy for about the first two hours. After that people drastically reduce prices or give it away for free. Remember to donate any leftover stuff to the base thrift stores.
There are also
off base flea markets called night markets run by Japanese vendors. These are around the Araha beach area and occur 7 pm or later on weekends. I’ve gone but didn’t find them particularly cheap or interesting. My Japanese friend says they are not nearly as good as the American ones and judging from the number of Okinawans who show up at the American flea market, I believe her. Still, worth checking out if you’re curious.
There are two base thrift stores, the Kadena Thrift Shop/Uncle Sam’s Attic and the Marine.
The Kadena Thrift Shop/Uncle Sam’s Attic is located on Kadena AB between the Lemon Lot and Burger King. Take Douglas towards Gate 3, turn left on Fairchild, tirn left at the first stop sign (Collison St), It’s the 2nd building on the left, bdg #859 by the Religious Education building. They are open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, & Fridays, from 0900-1400 and Thursdays from 1000-1900. You can visit their website HERE.
The Marine Thrift Shop on Foster is located up the hill from the street you are on when you exit the gas station (turn right when leaving the gas station). When coming in the gate off of Highway 58, turn right at the first street past the gas station. The thrift store will be up the hill on the LEFT side (please note: they moved their location from the right side of the road, to up the hill a bit on the left). The Marine Thrift Shop is open from 1000-1700 on Tuesday, Wednesdays, and Thursdays and on Saturdays from 1000-1500. You can visit their website HERE.
Even if you cannot find what you are looking for, consider stopping by either of these places to deliver donations (they also take plastic bags).
Off-base thrift stores are difficult to find. Consider visiting Total Reuse . You could also try visiting Manga Souko. It’s on 330 near Comprehensive Park and you can’t miss the green and white building with lots of English written on it. I’ve found great deals on Japanese dishes there and they have a lot of clothing! They will also buy stuff from you, particularly if its an American brand name like Tommy Hilfinger or Polo. I have found, however, that they don’t pay much so you’re better off selling at the flea market if you can.
For those of you who don’t have flea marketing time or are looking for bigger pieces of furniture, the classifieds section of HERE.Update will list things that people are trying to sell or get rid of. They have a free section where people just want to give their stuff away. Oftentimes these are things like rugs, packing boxes, cleaning supplies, etc. Often people sell anything from lawn furniture and baby strollers to car stereos and entertainment centers. It’s especially great if you¡¦re looking for something in good shape and are willing to pay a little more for it. update is published in the local paper but I wouldn’t bother with this as most likely whatever you want will be gone by the time you call. Instead I look up the classifieds on the website
They tend to update the classifieds Mondays , Wednesdays, and Fridays and I try and check on these days. If you find something interesting, email the seller who will most likely email you a picture of the item. I find that most sellers are willing to negotiate a little on the prices. However, stuff onUpdate moves really quickly so if it’s a decent deal take it and run.