Every year in mid-November, the shopkeepers in Fukuoka’s shopping arcades hold a bargain sale called seimon-barai. To show their appreciation, shopkeepers offer their wares at bargain-basement prices, and the annual sale is considered a sign of the coming winter. Rihei Yahiro, the proprietor of a pickle shop in Shimokawabata called Kinzando, began the practice in the Meiji Era. Considering that bargain sales, which are commonplace now, did not exist back this, this was quite an innovative move.
Yahiro learned of the practice of seimon-barai when he went to Osaka on business. There he saw people flocking to the bargain sale at the Ebisu Ichi market, and began to wonder if he couldn’t do something similar in Hakata. Yahiro approached the city’s kimono merchants about the idea, but back then, the only time you would ever see a bargain sale was when someone’s shop was going out of business. The negotiations were tough, but in the end 27 shopkeepers agreed to cooperate, and the first seimon-barai was held in 1879 (Back then, it was known as the seimon-bare.)
The sale grew larger in size every year, and aside from a stint during the war when it was suspended, it has continued to the present day. Initially, the seimon-barai was only held in the Kawabata shopping arcade, but after the war it spread to Shintencho and other shopping streets. Now, the large department stores in Tenjin and Hakata also participate in the event, which goes by the name of Fukuhaku Seimon-barai, and the various merchants have added their own unique flair to the sale.
After making the bargain sale a reality, Yahiro put several other ideas into practice: He built a leisure facility along the river in Sumiyoshi in an effort to recreate Tokyo’s Mukojima amusement park in Fukuoka and erected a 30-meter octagonal tower in Nakasu. Later, in 1917, he started the Nakagawa fireworks festival, which continues to this day—albeit in Ohori Park—as the Nishinippon Ohori Fireworks that is held every year in August.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn203, Nov. 2015)