At a festival in Kanda Myojin near the famous Akihabara district in central Tokyo I saw these two dressed up Gods from the Japanese mythological pantheon, Ebisu and Daikokuten. They are both members of the most commonly appearing Japanese God “band”, the Seven Gods of Fortune (七福神 Shichifukujin). Ebisu is the slightly crippled and deaf God of fishermen, workingmen and luck, and is usually shown holding a large fish and a rod in his distinctive hat. Daikokuten is the god of Darkness and also associated with luck and the household, especially the kitchen. He is usually shown holding his magic hammer which can tap out anything wished for. When not standing at shrines in central Tokyo he is usually seen sitting on two bales of rice, so full that mice gather around to catch what falls out of them.
It is not very common to see the Gods acted out like this at shrines and temples in Japan so I took the opportunity to catch these two fellows when they showed up. You can see other posts about Kanda Myojin and the festivals there here.
During the Edo period after the end of the Civil Wars one of the ways that peace was kept was to have the ruling provincial lords to live close together in the capital where the Shogun could keep an eye on them. The Daimyo (provincial level lords) live in grand walled estates called Yashiki, the grandest of which was like a miniature city within the city while the smallest was merely a large house with a garden, a wall and sometimes a ceremonial moat to separate it from the city. Many of the Yashiki also had dedicated shrines where the people who lived there could pray. After the Edo period ended the old Yashiki system was abolished and most of the grand Tokyo estates were broken up into smaller pieces or turned into parks or gardens. The shrines sometimes remained though, and to this day it is possible to find several of these scattered around central Tokyo to show where a grand estate house once stood. I have heard there are 16 of them but I am not sure.
I found one of these Edo Yashiki shrines in Tokyo’s Asakusa district, the Taro Inari Jinja (Shrine). This used to be the estate shrine of the Tachibana House of the Yanagawa clan, who ruled souther Fukuoka province on the Island of Kyushu. The estate and the shrine was established here around 1660. This is the only remains of the old estate, even though some of the lots are still in the hands of the original noble family members who seem to be in the hotel business (not sure on this one).
The thing that made me notice this shrine however was the fact that the Torii, the red gate in front of all shrines and holy places, has actually been incorporated into the neighboring building when it was erected, a torii shaped hole has been made in the building wall itself! No matter how crowded Tokyo gets, you can’t really ask the Gods to move!
Yesterday was the first of the two Torinochi market days on the calendar for this year. I had a lot of work today and couldn’t go myself but here are some photos that I took last year at the Hanazono Shrine in Shinjuku. Let me quote myself about the meaning and background of the Torinoichi tradition:
“November the 10th is the first of the annual Torinohi, two or three days in November when traditional tornoichi markets are being held in many shrines and temples throughout Japan. The fact that both religions, shinto and buddhism, celebrate this tradition is interesting, the only difference between them is their reason for doing it. In all places the main object is to trade in the traditional kumade (熊手, or bear’s hand) decoration pieces, sometimes as small as 500 yen coin, and sometimes big enough to cover a small wall, there are all kinds of kumade and all the traders take great pride in displaying as much of their wares as possible. The basic form of the kumade comes from the humble garden rake, and the kumade is said to symbolize the raking in of health, happiness and health. It is traditional for local business to buy one each year to display in their shops. Whatever your belief is, the magic of the kumade actually works as it attracts customers. I personally always stop in front of a shop displaying a good kumade, giving the proprietor of the shop a chance to wheel me in and make a sale. The tradition is always buy a larger kumade than last year, so if you plan on following the tradition I would recommend starting out as small as possible, even though the sly tradesmen will always try to sell you their biggest!”
There is one more Torinoichi this year and I hope to catch it!