Off the Beaten Dori: Setagaya Boro-Ichi

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.


9 thoughts on “Off the Beaten Dori: Setagaya Boro-Ichi

  1. Hi Jollice –

    The flea market looks fun!
    Your pictures are so vibrant and colorful. Stay longer in Japan so you can show me around when I visit. You got to promise!

  2. I remember that boro-ichi! I’m so glad you featured this, it’s really one of those hidden gems. I found a bass guitar there for 5000yen and slogged it all the way back to Australia – it came with an amp and tuner too!

    1. wow, you managed to fought your way among the crowd and bought a guitar with am & tuner? i’m impressed! 🙂

  3. Stumbled upon your blog by chance when searching for ideas for our 2nd Japan visit in August (summer = HEAT! but got no other time unfortunately). Love your writings & photos and off the beaten track ideas. My husband & I absolutely love flea markets…almost every holiday we’ve been to where there are flea markets – we’ll be there! Hahaha and now even with kids, we “drag” them along too but it’s always fascinating for them to see the variety of stuffs. Anyway you mentioned that this one is open in Dec/Jan only? Do you know of any other great flea markets in Tokyo area that might be open in weekdays/weekends in August?

    1. Hi Yana, thanks for visiting my blog.
      August, yup, summer heat but it should be fine.

      Most of the largest and celebrated flea markets like Setagaya Boro-ichi are happening during autumn/winter season, for sure related to weather.
      But you can still find small markets on most parks like Yoyogi or Inokashira Park. Just not sure if this is a weekly event.
      I suggest you check-out Time Out Tokyo from time to time. Their list of “30 things to do this weekend” usually has the most updated information, apart from the obvious bands and concerts they are promoting, they are inserting a bit of cultural stuff like parades and markets.

      Enjoy your second trip.
      Let me know if I can help you on anything else.

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