Fun and Bargains Galore

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 Boroichi an unforgettable spectacle.

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.

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 colorful kimono.

Nostalgic Ride

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.

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