At 9am sharp, rockets boom skyward in the wintry air. And with
this pounding assault on the ears, Setagaya's two-day Boroichi
(Rag Fair) is officially underway. More than 700 stalls line
Boroichi-dori between Kamimachi and Setagaya Stations on the
Setagaya line. Some 200,000 people will crowd the street in
a sluggish stream till the fair closes at 9pm - with another
rocket fusillade, of course.
Nothing less than a gigantic flea market, Boroichi has been
Setagaya's premiere commercial and social event since 1578 -
more than 400 years! But why call it a rag fair? Because early
fairs featured stalls that sold rags used as bindings for straw
sandals. The rags are long gone, but the name persists as a
delightful reminder of a simpler time.
By now Boroichi has become a massive melange of every kind of merchandise imaginable. Between stalls purveying cut-price silk neckties and kimono sashes squats a display of wooden tubs and mallets for pounding the New Year's mochi. Further along, stuffed Snoopies vie for space with vintage clocks, chest-of-drawers, cutlery, potted plants, taiko drums, miniature Shinto shrines for the household altar and aviator jackets. You name it; some free-enterpriser probably has it in stock.
What's more, amidst the junk you may find treasure - or at least something to add a touch of fun and color to your new home. And it might even turn out to be an amazing bargain.
Trade and tradition combine to make
That's what most fair-goers are indeed here for - and few dig into their pockets
at the asking price. At one stall, a fiftyish obatalian (battle-axe)
dickers for a bulk rate on pickled plums. She wins 8% off with
guaranteed home delivery. Nearby, a wily Canadian haggles over
a coffee table, driving it down 25% by forgoing delivery. Cash
paid, he trundles away with the table on his back. No one in
the know misses the banana stand. Its motor-mouth barker auctions
off his wares with a glib sales pitch and good-natured jibes.
Bunch after bunch is snapped up by an appreciative audience.
Boroichi an unforgettable spectacle.
The Boroichi venue centers around Daikanyashiki, the well-preserved
230-year-old residence of the magistrate who imposed law and
order in feudal times. Next door to its thatched roof is the
Setagaya Provincial Museum, a trove of local memorabilia. The
big day always begins with a procession. Way back when, it included
the elaborately clad magistrate and a retinue of local notables.
The tradition continues, albeit with more gray suits and fewer
The fair dates are January 15-16 and December 15-16, each year. To get there, take the Hanzomon/Shin-Tamagawa line to Sangenjaya, then transfer to the Setagaya line. The 10-minute ride to Setagaya Station is a nostalgic experience in itself, the "train" being a pair of ancient tramcars. This antique is the pride and joy of local residents, who bristle at any suggestion of replacing it with a more modern conveyance. Billboards along the line carry exhortations to "Do your best, our Setagaya line!"
That spirit - and the respect for Boroichi traditions - explains a lot about why Setagaya remains one of the best places in the metropolis to live.