Tokyo’s 438 year old market

It all started way back in the year 1578 when Tokyo was nothing more than agricultural land dotted with a few castles. Odawara Castle, close to Mt Fuji, was under control by the prominent Late Hojo clan. They had an alliance with many smaller warlords and ruled the entire region including present-day Tokyo.

Wanting a place where they could buy and sell agricultural equipment and products, the farmers in the area gained permission from the Late Hojo clan to start up a tax-free market. The market was positioned along a main highway that linked 2 or 3 different warlords’ territories. When it opened, “Rakuichi” was held 6 times a month and was immensely popular. At its peak, there were around 2,000 stalls.

Over the years, many battles took place and each time some of the farmers would lose their land or even their lives, and the market, too, would be forced to close. But it never completely died. So long as there were farmers, the market would reopen and trading would continue.

By the late 1800s, however, the market had become not much more than a nostalgic event. It was decided that the market would be held over just 4 days each year – December 15, 16 and January 15, 16 – and it has been that way ever since.

Today, Setagaya Boroichi flea market is made up of about 600~700 stalls. A lot of the vendors have been coming here for years, and actually this is the only time some of them set up shop. Thousands of people pack the narrow streets, hunting for bargains and one-off antiques. The agricultural equipment have been replaced by everything from old kimonos to traditional ceramics to samurai swords! The crowds are a little intense, even for Tokyo standards, and you will probably lose your friends within 5 minutes of arriving, but a trip to the Boroichi is treasure hunting at its finest!

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