Crash Course: Tori no Ichi

October has barely started and I am already thinking about the end of the year. A quick glance at the calendar this week reminded me that the Tori no Ichi rake fairs are coming up in just a few weeks.

Tori no ichi (rake fairs) are, as far as I am aware, nationwide celebrations though I have only ever been to ones in Tokyo. In the capital, you’ll find the main fair occurring on the precincts of the Senso-ji Temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa neighborhood, though a few shrines around Tokyo hold similar celebrations. Tori no ichi are held one to three times a year in November, always on the day of the rooster (rooster is tori in Japanese). A day of the rooster falls once every 12 days. As the date changes depending on the old calendar, some years there is only one fair in the month, whereas some years there are up to three. Allegedly, if there are three fairs in November, there is a greater chance of a devastating fire that year. (Remember, old Japanese cities were packed with primarily wooden homes and shops and fires were an all too often and terrible event.)

Rake fairs are primarily held to pray for good luck and good fortune in business. Around the shrine, vendors set up stalls that sell giant silver and gold rakes (kumade). Why rakes? To rake in good fortune, of course. Often, these are embellished with decorations ranging from sake barrels and money boxes to the Shichifukujin (Seven Gods of Good Fortune). The tradition holds that to increase your luck every year, you need to return to the fair and buy a larger rake. So take heed, fortune seekers – start small!

Elaborate rakes at a Tori no Ichi in Shinjuku
Elaborate rakes at a Tori no Ichi in Shinjuku

The first rake fairs were held in the Edo Period (1603-1868) and were seen by the public as the first of the New Years’ celebrations. Farmers and merchants who would create rakes to sell to city dwellers relied on the income from the fairs to pay off their yearly debts, while customers used the opportunity to stock up on good luck charms and nonperishable food in preparation for the O-shogatsu holidays.

This year’s Tori no Ichi are held on November 10th and November 22nd. Try not to miss it if you’re in town!

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