Shopping at Setagaya Boroichi, Tokyo’s Largest Flea Market

By Alexandra Homma
December 23, 2015
Lifestyle

Shopping at posh department stores in Tokyo certainly has its cool vibe, but if you’re in search of something old and gold that won’t cost wads of cash, a visit to the Setagaya Boroichi Flea Market should definitely be on your agenda.

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Meaning “rag market,” this 437-year-old flea market is held biannually in January and December near Setagaya station, and is a true treasure-hunting spot that offers bits of something for everyone. With an impressive lineup of over 700 stalls selling various keepsakes from kimono and clothing to pottery, handicrafts, souvenirs, toys and, of course, food (and plenty of it), the market is a popular attraction, with thousands of visitors every year. 

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While many visit for the famed Daikan-mochi rice cakes, some of the most unique items on display are at the Zakka Tochiya stall, where you can find pre-WWII textbooks (including English ones) for ¥300 apiece. As you flip through the crumbled yellow pages, you can’t help but gradually feel engrossed in the conjured up lives of the unknown owners in the Showa era, wondering what fate had befallen them.

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Other impressive works of art for sale include felt pouches and bags from ¥550, old silk kimono and obi (kimono sashes) from ¥2,000, handwoven sweaters for ¥2,980, and other accessories at surprisingly low prices. Various spices, pickles, miso, kombu (kelp) and preserved vegetables of all sorts can also be had for bargain prices of only several hundred yen. For those who need a warming break from the outdoor shopping and won’t be driving back home, amazake (hot sake, ¥150) is great option.

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The Boroichi Resource Center, located inside the thatched-roof Daikan Yashiki, a designated national cultural treasure and the former residence of a Setagaya magistrate, has a large display on the market’s colorful (well, black-and-white) history, which is also well worth a visit.

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So if you’re in search of some vintage inspiration to add to your New Year or wondering what English textbooks might have looked like back in the 1930s, take the local streetcar-like Setagaya line and visit this unique market. You’ll definitely get more than you bargained for.    

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The Deets

When: January 15–16 and December 15–16, 9 a.m.– 8 p.m.

Where: Boroichi-dori Street, Setagaya 1-chome, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo (five-minute walk from Setagaya or Kamimachi stations on the Setagaya line)

How much: Free!

Originally from Bulgaria, Alexandra came to Japan as a teenager and has—as of 2015—officially spent half of her life here, studying, working and enjoying Japan’s culture and outdoors. A true lover of coffee, her hobby is exploring Tokyo's cafes, and she doesn't mind a train ride of two or three hours just for a sip of a carefully dripped, hot, black cup of java.

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