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Tori no Ichi – The Bird Market in November


November sees the beginning of the end of the year, Toshi-no-se.  In the Kanto region (around Tokyo), a festival and market called Tori-no-Ichi is the first of many events in the passage to the big day.

Ceremony Only for Yamato Takeru

Tori-no-Ichi ceremonies are on the days of the Rooster during November.  (There are days, months and year of the Rooster in the Ancient Chinese calendar).  There are two or three Days of the Rooster, depending on the year, and there are three in 2018. 

The origin is said to be at the Ootori Shrine in Hanahata village in Edo, where, according to records,  Yamato Takeru, the legendary noble army leader and their patron saint, celebrated his most prominent victory.  The shrine celebrated a successful crop on the day of the passing of Yamato Takeru, which fell on a day of the Rooster in November. 

The ceremony starts with a single drum at midnight, and it continues for the entire day.  The villagers offer hens and roosters to the shrine as Thanksgiving, and these birds were sent to Asakusa Shrine, another one that worships Yamato Takeru, to be released on its ground.  (Worshippers at Hanahata Ootori Shrine did not eat chicken meat as it were sacred for them.)

Asakusa’s Ootori Shrine, the receiver of offers, explains the legend differently, attributing more to its history.  There is also another explanation of the origin in the Buddhist tradition, again related to a rooster bringing luck.  The exact account is unclear, but one thing for sure is that people are still enthusiastic about this day-long ceremony.

Fortune Gathering Rakes – Kumade

The rake was a weapon in ancient Japan.  Yamato Takeru propped his rake against a pine tree in the shrine during his visit, and since then people appreciate a rake-shaped ornament as a fortune which garners good luck. The shrine offices give away small rakes made with harvested rice branches, but merchants line up the approach, 150 in Asakusa’s case, selling heavily decorated ornamental rakes – Kumade.

During the peaceful Edo period, people started to gather at this shrine in Hanahata village, hoping to get lucky early by purchasing ornaments.  It became a big festivity, rather than a religious occasion.  Towards the end of the 18th century, street side gambling was so rife and disruptive to other members of the public that the authorities had to ban leisure activities around the shrine’s Tori-no-Ichi.  It repelled visitors, and the centre of the celebration moved to Asakusa.

With the move from the outskirts to the centre of the capital city, Edo, the characteristics of the ceremony also shifted from an agricultural thanksgiving to a bid for commercial successes.  The huge success is often attributed to the neighbouring Yoshiwara pleasure district, as the red line area was open on the day of Tori-no-Ichi.

The festival’s popularity lives on until today, and Asakusa Tori-no-Ichi attracts 700,000 to 800,000 every year.  The other large festival, though newer than the above two, is the festival at Hanazono Shrine in Shinjuku, which draws about 600,000.  It is notable that the shrines near the commercial districts are more popular, as local merchants keep on coming back every year.

How to Buy Kumade, Edokko Way

Edokko is a nickname for the residents of Edo downtown.  They were known for magnanimous attitudes and for being big spenders, not sparing the day’s earning till the following day.  They were also very keen merchants who did anything to make business grow year on year.

So here is a tip for buying the rakes, Kumade, Edokko fashion. 

The new Kumade has to be bigger than the previous one.  If you purchase a smaller one, business will inevitably get smaller in the following year.  This basic rule is still followed:  For example, a comedian confessed on a radio show that success started to come in once he began purchasing it every year.

Sophisticated buyers would haggle with stall holders, often the same as the previous year.  When a business owner purchases a lavishly decorated giant Kumade, he/she tries to get the price down as much as possible.  But once the price is agreed, the buyer should always gift the difference between the original and the negotiated price. 

Yes, this means that they buy at the original price!  Meaningless?  But these generous Edokko business people can feel like lords, the stall holders momentarily feel that they got a good deal, and they would close the deal with the traditional ceremonial clapping called Tejime, making everyone happy.

It Is All about Ceremony

Tori-no-Ichi ceremony starts at midnight and goes on for 24 hours.  It is a long day, and it is a happy day, giving thanks for the crop and praying for a slightly bigger success in the coming year.  There are a lot of rituals, traditions, and unique lucky charms, only available then. 

The occasion gives people the opportunity to drumroll towards the end of the year, gearing up business for the important New Year day.

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