Setagaya Boroichi: The mother of all flea markets
Let’s face it— we’ve all had a year of being stuck inside, getting rid of stuff that was oppressing us, and NOT SHOPPING AT ALL, so don’t you think we’re ripe for a new year of acquiring treasures that DO spark joy?
There’s no better place to do it than the grand pooh-bah of all flea markets, the Setagaya Boroichi!
This sprawling Japanese treasure mine happens twice a year—once before Christmas on December 15-16 (for all your gift-giving needs) and once after the new year, on January 15-16.
I guarantee, even if you are not a “flea market person,” you will walk away with plenty of pictures, if nothing else.
At first glance, this could be a typical flea-markety collection from anywhere such convos thrive. Until you look closer and see that it includes a vintage tailor’s iron, a set of gorgeous antique lacquer bowls for ozoni new year’s soup, a disgruntled workman doll, a pre-dial-era telephone, and a couple of courtesan’s tobacco pipes. All at bargain prices!
Now imagine this…times a thousand
The Setagaya Boroichi is not for the weak. For two days, twelve blocks of Setagaya’s streets are cordoned off and lined with sellers, and the size of the crowds gives you some idea of what legendary bargains and treasures are to be had
Here’s where it is
Many stands feature the kind of mismatched goods that make treasure hunters’ hearts race, because camouflaged amid the sets of modern trays and dishes, one just might find A TANUKI TEAPOT…
or a set of vintage Japanese school uniform buttons…
or a porcelain pillow for protecting your geisha hairdo until it’s time to visit the hairdresser again next week
There are plenty of hard-to-find traditional goods, like this righteous long-nosed tengu demon mask…
bins of kokeshi dolls, concealing rolls of paper upon which good wishes can be written…
gorgeously carved wooden molds for sweets…
and shrines carved from Yakushima cedar to protect your household gods (or bring ongoing prosperity to your business)
All eras are represented with typical flea market randomness…
and there’s a surprising selection of unexpected postwar goods on offer
No flea market worth its salt would be complete without a flurry of used clothing vendors, but at the Setagaya Boroichi, it’s those that sell kimono who dish up the best finds
Not all the stands sell bargains, but there are plenty of tables offering kimonos for ¥500-¥1000 ($5-$10 USD) that are a goldmine for hunters of beautiful Japanese fabrics to remake into other things, or stained kimonos to rehabilitate
I am still gnashing my teeth over The One That Got Away
Vintage toys are another popular category, and those who know the market can get them new or used at the Setagaya Boroichi much cheaper than in the shops of Nakano Broadway or Akihabara
I’m still sorry I didn’t stock up on these to add to my Dinovember dinosaur crew
They’d have fit right in!
Not everything for sale is old—handcraft makers who don’t sell through retail shops have a presence too. This guy makes old-fashioned bird feeders, for example
Replica sellers have a sizeable number of booths, many offering goods of surprisingly quality, at pretty decent prices
These netsuke are modern copies, but if you’re in the market for affordable small souvenirs to bring back for loved ones, you just hit the jackpot
And finally, let’s not forget the kitch!
Sprinkled among the genuine treasures, the bargain finds, and the eccentric novelties are the stands selling pure entertainment
I can’t imagine who might need this non-trivial-sized bobble-head tiger…
Or a life-sized statue of their pet…
But it’s stands like this that provide endless free amusement, which is the best thing about flea markets, wherever in the world you happen to find them.
was chosen as an The Last Tea Bowl Thief Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon
“A fascinating mix of history and mystery.” —Booklist
For three hundred years, a missing tea bowl passes from one fortune-seeker to the next, altering the lives of all who possess it… read more
Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, and blogs at and Only In Japan The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had