Last night we took the subway to witness our first of many Japanese festivals. The Japanese seem to have festivals for just about everything and last night’s was called the Tori-no-Ichi festival. This festival is celebrated at many shrines throughout Tokyo and Japan, and we decided to go to the largest in our area: the Otori-Jinja Shrine—just an 8-minute walk from the Iriya stop on the Hibiya Subway Line
The Tori-no-Ichi is a fair held on the days of the rooster in November. This fair is sometimes called…Otori-sama…[for] the patron deity of good fortune and successful business…[The] fair is set…with open-air stalls selling kumade rakes for 'raking in wealth and good fortune.' This good-luck rake is made of bamboo and is decorated with masks and…old gold coins (http://www.jnto.go.jp).
[The fair is] where one gives thanks for a safe year and prays for happiness in the next; not unlike an American Thanksgiving and [is] held…every November since the Edo era (the Christian era 1750-1760). While being the last big event of the year, it is also the first event in the course of new year’s preparations. It thus forms the bridge, both economic and psychological, between the old and new years, emphasizing the continuum of time in society from year to year (http://www.otorisama.or.jp).
I’ve provided detailed info above from two websites on what the fair is about, because based on my American-centric experience I had no idea of what was being celebrated or how.
We arrived about 4pm and noticed the lighted Japanese lanterns from the distance as we approached from down the street. They surrounded the shrine entrance providing a welcoming beacon and added to the festive feeling. A large crowd was already gathering at the shrine efficiently forming two lines--one going down each direction of the sidewalk. These opposing lines quickly came back together at the entrance of the shrine to enter as one. High up on a platform on either side of the entrance was a young man, dressed in white, continually waving a wooden handle of white strips of paper back and forth. Passing these two men and entering the shrine one was hit with an explosion of color. Along both sides and branching out into the shrine area were lines of booths filled with brightly colored items that were either attached to bamboo handles or looked like overstuffed baskets of color. These were the ‘good fortune rakes’. They were of various styles and sizes and covered the entire tops of the tables on up the walls at least ten feet or so—and all added to the cornucopia of color. Some were just baskets with a smiling face attached to the inside and others were baskets jammed with multiple figurines, flowers, pieces of paper, and ribbons of reds, yellows, blues, silvers, golds and greens.
I had read somewhere that when people buy the rakes, multiple groups of people chant and clap and that this is what adds to the excitement of the festival; but I only heard chants and claps a few times and only saw a few people carrying the rakes around so there wasn’t much of this going on while we were there.
As we stood waiting to enter the shrine, we noticed some festival goers handing the rakes over to a group of people located outside the entrance. It looked like they bought the rakes, carried them around, and then recycled them back to this awaiting group who took them and unceremoniously dumped them into a bag with others.
Still unsure of what was going on, we just followed the crowd in and enjoyed the explosion of color and activity around us. We moved off as we got to the back of the shrine where people rang the bells by yanking on long ropes hanging from the ceiling—and just exited out the back and into a huge street fair.
It was a street fair filling multiple streets and there were blocks and blocks of food vendors selling chocolate-dipped bananas, deep-fried things, strips of meats and whole fishes on sticks, various types of noodle dishes, baked potatoes, squid balls, booze, dumplings, tofu dishes, hamburgers, sausages, tiny candied apples, and even cotton candy.