Is the term "フリーマーケット" sometimes assumed to be derived from, or meaning, "Free market", as opposed to "Flea market"? (That is, having a false etymology)

There is a phrase "Free market" in English, but it has an unrelated meaning to "Flea market". (To be fair, describing a "Flea market" as "Free" makes some sense, as it's outdoors and vendors presumably have fewer restrictions than if they had a store in a shopping centre)

I've come across some sites talking about this in Japanese, such as Wikipedia, and this Japanese-language site about Japanese English, but haven't found any info in English.

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    In fairness to your question, I've seen Japanese websites transliterate it back to free market in their urls for a flea market.
    – virmaior
    Commented Aug 16, 2014 at 9:44

2 Answers 2


To answer the title question first, yes, it is. Roughly, I am going to say that it happens incidentally 90% of the time and intentionally the rest of the time.

This comes from innocent ignorance 80-90% of the time as the English word "flea" is simply not known nearly as widely as the word "free" among the average people. The word 「フリー」(from "free") is already very common and most of us just never questioned our notion "フリー = free".

There is the old term that everyone knows 「[蚤]{のみ}の[市]{いち}」, which literally means "flea market" but we just fail to make the connection between 「蚤」 and "flea". 「蚤の市」, by the way, is the translation of its original French term "le marché aux puces". It does not come from "flea market" in English in case that is what you thought.

So, it was coincidental in the vast majority of cases. However, there are times when people who are actually familiar with the English term "flea market" use on purpose "free market" as the "spelling" for THEIR own flea markets. This is where what OP states in his paragraph #2 comes in. I have personally seen advertisement where "Free Market" is used in its English spelling with an explanation saying that freedom is the key word. You can sell anything for whatever prices you want. You can even choose to barter instead of sell. You are free to do anything!

Finally, a word on the tricky term 「自由市場」. It has not been explained fully as I type.

When read 「じゆうしじょう」, it means "the free market (system)" as an economics term.

When read 「じゆういちば」, it is (part of) a proper noun for a "flea market" type of an event or place that someone is running.


Both links explain that フリーマーケット comes from "flea market" not "free market" but the term needs some disambiguation.

蚤 (のみ)is the 漢字 for flea and the プログレッシブ dictionary lists 蚤の市 as "a flea market"

The following extract from your second link explains the above and that フリー is not "free" but "flea":


[A:] ...フリーマーケットとは蚤の市のことであり、flea (蚤) + market(市、市場) = flea market となります。フリーは、 free ではなく、flea の方なんです。

In the first link we are told to be careful because the Japanese for free market in its true (English) sense is 自由市場:

free marketとは、経済学用語[、]..自由市場のこと..なので注意が必要である

According to the sites, the term フリーマーケット seems to be used more for large scale events aimed at families and young people, taking place in places such as car parks of stadia on particular days. There is no hard and fast rule and there are other terms for other markets for old things.

As pointed out in the comments, フリーマーケット is not really 和製英語 as it is based on an English expression rather than a "Japanese made English" such as "nighter" (ナイター)for an evening game of baseball under floodlights. However if its use is restricted to a specific type of market for old things then it has a 和製 nature. This gets more complicated if it gets taken to be derived from (and perhaps written as) "free market" in English/Romaji. If such a market is held in a free open space then I suppose some people may even infer this as reflected in the name but I don't see that written in your links which seek to disambiguate the term.

(So, to summarise, yes it seems some people might mistakenly think the phrase refers to "free" as in "free market" but not necessarily in a physical sense.)

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    I read through the links, and neither says that フリーマーケット is 和製英語, certainly not in origin. The latter link describes the back-translation of "free market" as possibly 和製英語, or as just a mistake, but both sites describe the origin of フリーマーケット as the English term "flea market". Commented Aug 16, 2014 at 13:59
  • Here's the pink box from the latter link: フリーの部分が発音が似ており、また日本人にとって馴染みのある free を使用した (形)free(自由な) +(名) market(市、市場)= free market となっている場合がしばしば見受けられます。 この場合は、和製英語になります。というか単なるミスと言ってもいいかもしれませんが。 Commented Aug 16, 2014 at 14:04
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    @EiríkrÚtlendi: I was a bit quick and it was not really part of the OP's question so I removed it. Thanks.
    – Tim
    Commented Aug 16, 2014 at 16:22

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