If your idea of a Saturday morning is to be pushed around, to be squeezed inside the local train where the only way to fit in and support yourself is to reach for the ceiling or to develop an ability to move from one place to another without taking a step, then Setagaya Boro-Ichi is for you.
Held every 15 & 16th of December and January at the suburb area of Setagaya, this annual winter rag market tradition draws an estimated crowd 200,000 people making it more than just your usual bargain hunting event.
With history dating back around 433 years ago, the main item for trading were used kimonos, thus deriving the fair and the street name from the word “boro” which means fabric scrap. An approximate 750 stalls occupies the usually quiet and narrow lane neighborhood of Boro-Ichi Dori, where eager hunter fight their way along the massive crowd towards the item of desire.
Designated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government as an Intangible Folk Cultural Asset, the first event was introduced by Daimyo (powerful territorial lord) in 1578, with the aim of stimulating the economy by eliminating taxes and interests. The idea of “raku-ichi” (rag market) was introduce in many castle town across Japan but decline thru time, though most people continue the tradition by doing the trading themselves. I was told that the annual event stay true to the tradition of “tax free” marketing, reason why it draws thousands of buyers and sellers.
The items sold at the fair has increased from used clothes, to antiques, altars, shoes, home decors, ceramics, toys, accessories, potteries- let’s just say anything that could be possibly sold, with most buyers still opting for the cheaper used items. For foreigners intending to shop in Japan, don’t be turned off with the word “used” or “re-sale”, the items marked with this word are favorably in good and clean condition, but of course it depends on your preference.
So what did I manage to score in the flea market? Japanese dolls for 300 yen per piece and some winter scarves for another 300 yen each. Both items when bought at original price can reach more than 1,000 to 2,000 yen. I did save a lot.
When there is a flea market, you can always guarantee that there will be plenty of street food, thus attracting more people to participate in the event. Daikan-mochi is a type of rice cake delicacy which is considered as the “official” food of the fair. Not only it tastes good but it’s nice to see the way it is prepared and cooked.
Only in Japan where shopping at the rag market is consider as a national treasure that is worth celebrating and preserving, so I urge anyone to give in to the temptation and squeeze your way into the flea market. Never mind that at the end of the day, all you want to do is lay on your bed and rub those aching muscles.