December 17, 2015

Cycling to the Boro-ichi Market in Setagaya, Tokyo.

On a cold day under crisp blue Tokyo winter skies myself and four others set out on a ride from Studio C in Sasazuka to visit Setagaya-ku's famous Boro-ichi Market.


Setagaya Boro-ichi has been officially recognised as one of Tokyo's intangible cultural assets dating back over 430 years. Beginning in he 1570s as a "free market" where taxes were removed to boost the ailing economy Boro-ichi flourished as a place to buy and sell old fabric scraps. Later Boro-ichi became a year-end market adding farming equipment and New Years goods to the list if items on sale and was held on December 15th each year.  Today Boro-ichi is a two day annual event held on the 15th and 16th of both December and January which boasts over 700 vendors selling food, fabric, clothing, antiques, toys and plants to name a few.


Now I have to admit that when Brad from Freewheeling Bike Adventures invited me out on a ride to Boro-ichi I had no idea what the event was despite having lived just a 20 minute ride away for the last 10 years, but I love a festival and I love a ride so of course no further persuasion was required for me to get involved.


After dropping my daughter off at school I cycled along the Kandagawa to Inokashira Dori before making my way to Studio C where Brad and Jack-san were waiting with a very welcome hot cup of coffee. Once Chad arrived we took the back streets to Blue Lug where we met Naoto-san. Now Brad prides himself on his knowledge of local back streets and promised to take us all the way to from Sasazuka to Umegaoka, picking up Ken on the way, meeting just three traffic lights along the way. We were sceptical, but he's not disappointed us in the past with his amazing mental map of the city.


Brads chosen route took us past numerous parks, temples, and beautiful homes featuring amazing architecture on quiet car free backstreets. After picking up Ken at a nearby 7/11 we did indeed reach Umegaoka Station having avoided all main roads and by passing through just three traffic lights the whole way.


After some more rat running through the back streets we turned on to a large road which would take us directly to Boro-ichi near Setagaya Station on the charmingly local Setagaya line. To our joy this road displayed some of Tokyo worst ever cycling infrastructure, a blue "bicycle lane" no more than 50cm in width, complete with parked delivery vehicles! A classic example of clueless cycling infrastructure this "bicycle lane" stretched all the way to Boro-ichi making it an impressive length, but why so narrow?  I've ranted about this elsewhere.


Upon arrival we parked our bicycles legally in a bike rack that offered free parking for the first two hours and set off on foot to explore Boro-ichi. The street leading up to the market was lined with food vendors serving everything imaginable yaki-tori, yaki-soba, oden, jacket potatoes, age-pan, dango, and mochi, but I was more in the mood for a spicy kebab.


Being early the crowds weren't insane, but considering it was just 10am on a Wednesday morning there really were many more people here than I expected. Venturing into the market down a narrow street lined with antiques, clothing, farm tools, toys and more I munched on a spring roll and perused the wide array of strange goods on sale including German Steins, Japanese Swords, and California Highway Patrol badges. I was really enjoying the atmosphere, chatting with vendors and browsing the incredibly varied items that were for sale and looking up the street I saw the stalls continue on for a few hundred meters more. It wasn't until I reached what I thought was the end of the line of stalls that I looked down a street to my right and realised the section of the market I was enjoying so much was merely a side street feeding into the main strip of the market which extended further than I could possibly see. It appeared to continue on forever!



From there things just got more and more interesting, the sheer number of stalls, people and range if crazy items for sale was mind boggling. Amusing at one stall an elderly man was selling remote controls, he had hundreds and I'd hate to even try and calculate the odds that he's just happen to have one from our 1980's betamax video recorder. Not so amusing were ivory carvings, and stuffed sea turtles. Another stall sold an incredible number of tatami mat trimmings in various designs and colours .. here I was thinking they're all green and that nobody pays any particular attention to them. Stamps, sword guards, military surplus, ancient woodworking equipment, metalwork, kimonos, shoes, fans, food, hood ornaments, antique posters, minerals and crystals, I could list the weird an wonderful curiosities forever you really have to see it to believe it.


We enjoyed free samples of food, beer and sake as we slowly made our way to the end of the market and back before I purchased my spicy kebab to fuel me for the ride home.


Visiting Boro-ichi was a really amazing experience, one I can't believe I'd never had in all my years of living in Tokyo and I'd highly recommend you visit if you can.

Brad from Freewheeling Bike Adventures is going to lead another ride from Studio C in Sazuka along the same quiet streets free back streets we rode to Boro-ichi on Friday,  January 15th, 2016. The ride will start at 10am. Visit the Freewheeling homepage for all the details.

I hope to see you there!

Below are even more beautiful pictures of the incredible array of items that were for sale at the Boro-ichi markets taken by Chad Feyen.






















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