Rakin’ it in….

There are many festivals in Japan, with the summer being prime festival season. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to see at other times of the year. Wilf, itinerary crafter extraordinaire, found us an interesting one to visit while in Tokyo.

Tori-no-ichi is a Fall festival that occurs post harvest and as a lead up to the New Year. It occurs during November, the month of the rooster.

You may be familiar with the maneki neku, the waving cat seen in so many Japanese and Chinese businesses. There is another good luck item for businesses, and that item is the centre of activity during Tori-no-ich.  The kumade is a decorative rake, symbolic of raking in good fortune. It is decorated with auspicious symbols – lucky carp, maneki neko, Hello Kitty, bells – there is something for everyone. The rake is displayed in businesses – we have seen them before on our travels, but now we know a lot more about them.

We went to the Hanazono Shrine in Shinjuku without knowing what we would see and Wow! Everything starts at midnight and runs for 24 hours. We arrived late afternoon to find the shrine thronged with people.

(That is only part of the line of people waiting to ring the bell and make a prayer.)

In one area people were walking up to a small enclosure and pitching big rakes onto a pile, which confused us mightily. Until we learned that those were last year’s rakes. You start small and every year you upgrade, getting a bigger rake each year.

In the shrine area there were many dozens of shrines packed with rakes of all sizes. I assume that people have relationships over the years with their favorite vendors – I’m not sure how you would choose from one booth packed with bright shiny objects over another.

The vendors offer little cups of sake to their customers, and once the rake has been selected there is a little ceremony to seal the deal and transfer the luck to the new owner. This involved a chant and the clapping of wooden sticks. The new owner then processes out of the shrine carrying their new rake. (That was one way we knew we were in the right place – we saw people walking down the street with them)

Sometimes the kumade has a proper long handle, other times it looks more like a basket. Once the kumade has been sold it is decorated with a sprig of rice from this year’s harvest.

The other thing about the event is the food. Wow! Booth after booth of all manner of food. We had come from a pretty significant lunch and couldn’t wedge in another crumb, so we didn’t partake. But they were sure ready for a lot of people to come and buy. There were very few tourists at this shrine (the really big show is apparently in Asakusa, where the tourists are already thick on the ground) So – on the one had we had a challenge finding out information about what we were looking at. But on the other hand – this was the real deal, an event that is part of people’s lives and not aimed at tourists.

Next year will be the Year of the Boar (Pig) in the Chinese Zodiac. People were buying their rakes in anticipation of the new year, so many are decorated with boars (with shiny golden tusks). In fact we saw a lot of imagery for the year of the boar – including this poster from a sushi restaurant. Love the sushis riding the boars!

And yes, we brought little takes home with us – this one will keep me company at my desk:

Author: Sharon

I like to make things. I like to travel. I like to talk about what I'm up to.