One day during the second week of November, Kiku and Miko-chan woke up early, excited that they had been asked to visit the Rooster Fair in Asakusa with Boss Panda and Mama Kōjin. Boss Panda had told them that they should come along and enjoy the lively experience, and that he would also need help carrying the rake.
As Kiku and Miko-chan entered the kitchen that morning, the little shrine maiden doll looked at her fox friend and said, “Why do you think Boss Panda is going to buy a rake at a Rooster market, and how heavy can a rake* be?” Mama Kōjin, who overheard this question, began to laugh loudly. “Little ones!” she said kindly, “come and have some breakfast and I will explain what the fair is all about – but it isn’t selling chickens!”
The pair sat down in the kitchen of the bathhouse and whilst they ate, Mama Kōjin explained to them about the market.
“Welcoming a new year is a serious business in Japan, with temples and households undertaking lots of preparation. In the Edo period (1603 to 1868) the first event to welcome the New Year was the Tori-no-Ichi, [酉の市] often translated into English as the Rooster (or sometimes Bird) Fair.
There is a poem by Takarai Kikaku which reads:
春を待つ ことのはじめや 酉の市,
(Haru wo matsu/ Koto no hajime ya/ Tori no ichi) which translates as:
Anticipating spring
The beginning of it all
Tori no ichi.
“The beginnings of this particular market tradition are long and complicated, but these days the fair is a place where people come to pray for good fortune in business, or just to soak up the lively and animated atmosphere. The fair takes place in November, on the day of the rooster according to the oriental zodiac calendar – so there can be two or three such days during the month, depending on how they fall within a particular year. The individual fairs are then known in order as ‘Ichinotori’, ‘Ninotori’ and ‘Sannotori’.
Held at Otori shrines around Japan, which enshrine the patron deity of good fortune and successful business, there are around 30 different shrines in Tokyo which hold the event, the most well known of which is Juzaisan Chokokuji and the nearby Otori-jinja in Taito-ku, near Asakusa, which is where we will be going later.”
“All sorts of good fortune items may be purchased, but the main objects being sold are ‘kumade’ [熊手] – or good luck rakes made of bamboo – for ‘raking in wealth and good fortune’. Kiku frowned. “But if the rake is made out of bamboo, why does Boss Panda need help carrying it? It can’t weigh much!” Mama Kōjin smiled. “Well, firstly, they are decorated with a variety of items, which symbolise or invite good fortune, such as koban, which are old oval shaped gold coins, masks of otafuku, [阿多福] the goddess of mirth, used in Kyogen theatre, the seven lucky gods, red sea bream, cranes, turtles and other auspicious symbols. Depending on your preference, there can be quite a few things attached to the rake. But then there is the added tradition that each year you must buy a slightly bigger kumade than the one from the previous year, in order to have a bigger success. Even if you start with a modest sized rake, when you have been buying them for as many years as Boss Panda, they can get to be quite a size!”
The friends couldn’t wait to see all the colourful rakes and set off later that morning with their guardians.
When they arrived, the market was packed with both sellers and buyers, the market stalls covered in all sizes of rakes, with many different decorations. There was a lot of noise, with sellers calling out and lots of rhythmic clapping to be heard. Boss Panda took them to a large stall set up in a corner, and run by a very curious character. “Kiku!” exclaimed Miko-chan. “The vendor is a lucky cat!”. Sure enough this particular stall, set up to accommodate businesses run by the hidden characters of Tokyo, was run by KiraKiraNeko [キラキラネコ] a lucky cat with stars in his eyes…
Boss Panda began to negotiate the price of a large rake with the sparkly cat, both obviously enjoying the activity. They then sang together “KANAI ANZEN, SHOUBAI HANJO”, [“家内安全、 商売 はんじょ” – meaning “safety for family, success in business] and clapped a little pattern in unison. Kiku watched closely as Boss Panda handed the payment over to the cat, but was confused when, after this, the big bear then ‘tipped’ the cat, who smiled widely and bowed. As Boss Panda lifted the large rake down from the stand, the little fox whispered to Mama Kojin “I thought they didn’t tip in Japan?” She smiled and explained that all rakes have a price shown on a ticket, and then haggling takes place to agree on a lower price (haggling is also something that doesn’t happen much in Japan). The buyer then pays the price agreed, and ‘tips’ the seller with the difference between that and the original ticket price – as a way of ‘sharing’ the good fortune. Kiku laughed and said ‘so it definitely brings good fortune to the vendors!’
The four enjoyed some market food before helping Boss Panda heave the enormous kumade back to the Bamboo Bathhouse.
Further Information
Other places in Tokyo which hold Tori-no-ichi markets are Hanazono-jinja Shrine in Shinjuku-ku, Kitano-jinja Shrine in Nakano-ku and Ebara-jinja Shrine in Shinagawa-ku.
There are two days of the rooster in 2016, and therefore two markets taking place at Juzaisan Chokokuji and the Otori shrine, on:
Friday 11th November, starting at midnight on the Thursday, and on:
Wednesday 23rd November also starting at midnight on the previous day.
*The word for this type of garden rake, made of bamboo, is kumade [熊手] which literally means ‘bear’s hand’.