Asakusa is known for a lot of tourist attractions, but for a few days a year in November on days that the lunar calendar designates as days of the rooster, it hosts Tori-no-Ichi, a.k.a Rooster Market/Festival that attracts about 700,000 visitors annually. The one held at Otori Shrine in Asakusa and together with the neighboring Juzaisan Chokoku-ji Temple,makes the largest out of the 3 Greatest Tori no Ichi festivals in the Kanto region.
The festival kicks off with a sound of “Ichiban-taiko” (drum) at midnight and will last for 24 hours. Every year about 800 to 900 food stalls and rake shops are set up in the Otori Shrine, attracting large crowds. Because the shrine precincts are small, and are filled with stalls selling decorated rakes, there is almost no space for food stalls, so they are located on the streets surrounding the shrine.
Otori Shrine Entrance
Food stalls are located on the street around the shrine
The Tori (rooster) no Ichi Festival, literally translated as “rooster market” is said to have been celebrated at shrines and temples across Japan since the Edo period. It is traditionally held in November, on days that the lunar calendar designates as days of the rooster. The story behind the festival goes quite back into Japanese history regarding the myth of Yamato dynasty prince, Yamato Takeru no Mikoto who is now enshrined in the Otori Shrine. The prince, who, after quelling a tribal uprising in the east, set up camp for a few years in the local area with dedicating his war rake (kumade) to the deity Amenohiwashi no Mikoto. Because this happened on the “Tori no Hi” (Day of the Rooster) the Otori shrine's priest made that day a special one to celebrate both Yamato Takeru no Mikoto and Amenohiwashi no Mikoto. Following into the Edo period, on this day many came to wish for good health, good fortune, and good business. And this is said to be the beginning of Tori no Ichi, the Rooster Market/Festival and thus, Otori Shrine in Asakusa makes it the origin. These “kumade”, literally translated as bear’s paw, is actually an auspicious bamboo rake decorated with symbols of wealth and prosperity like the Seven Lucky Gods, Maneki-Neko (beckoning or welcoming cat) and coins as a symbol of raking in fortune or luck. Unlike its name, these auspicious rakes come in different designs from the classic ones to those in a boat shaped to those in just bamboo to many more.
Big kumade with Okame (female face) mask, a symbol of longevity and Seven Lucky Gods
Mini kumade with a cute Maneki-Neko (beckoning or welcoming cat)
Each year, visitors bring back last year’s kumade and exchange it for a new one. Depending on the region, this festival may be called “O-tori Matsuri (festival)”, “O-torisama” or “Oakame Ichi”. And since the lunar calendar changes annually, some years the festival is held twice, and some years, three times. If the festival is held three times, it is a sign that rate of fire increases, therefore, these auspicious rakes are sold together with a sticker saying “Hino Youjin (beware of fire)”.
Kumade in a boat shape with Hino Youjin (beware of fire) sticker on the left (red)
There are many shops selling kumade and each is different in color, size, shape and prices. As a tradition, when a person decides to buy, they would return to the same shop every year and buy a new one, but bigger and a bit more expensive than the previous one. And when a rake is sold, it is common for the seller(s) and buyer(s) to clap their hands rhythmically with one another (known as the "sanbon-jime"). This is said to be a way of both the sellers and the buyers wishing each other good luck and sealing the transfer to the kumade's new owner.
Tower of kumade
Unlike other otori shrines where the 'tori' part of the name simply means 'bird', the Otori Shrine in Asakusa refers to an eagle, an indication that this shrine is the origin. It's not mandatory to buy any kumade while taking a visit to this festival, but since the kumade ranges from cheap to extravagant, it can be a pretty unique souvenir. However, upon purchasing the kumade, you’re supposed to walk around the stalls and shrines “clawing” with it to catch the luck that is all around you. During this festival, the Gods are so generous and kind enough to shower the festival with luck so visitors don’t need to feel guilty or worry about “stealing” other’s luck.
Meanings of the Decoration on Kumade
A symbol to pray for a rich harvest. Some are made with real rice bales and some are made with plastic and colored in gold.
This is a lucky charm usually one of the Seven Lucky Gods, Daikoku-sama is holding in his hand. It is a symbol for your dream/wish to come true.
Golden Coin (Koban)
Usually comes together with Maneki-neko (beckoning or welcoming cat), this oval shaped coin called “koban” in Japanese is a symbol of wealth and bringing in fortune.
Mikoshi (portable shrine)
Mikoshi (portable shrine) is used to carry the gods and parade them around the town during festivals and special occasions. Associated with this idea, this is a symbol to “carry” luck.
Red snapper/sea bream is often associated with Ebisu, one of the Seven Lucky Gods. Usually, Ebisu carries a fishing rod and at the end of the rod, there is a red snapper/sea bream. This represents “catching” good fortune and prosperous business.
Okame (female face) Mask
Okame (female face) mask often appears in fukuwarai, literally translated as Lucky Laugh which is a Japanese children's game popular at the Lunar New Year. It is a symbol of happiness but can also be a symbol of longevity. It is because its name can be written out in many ways and one means tortoise (kame). And tortoises have long been a symbol of longevity, therefore, this female face mask, Okame can be a symbol of both longevity and happiness.
From either Iriya station or Minowa station on the Hibiya line, it takes about a 10 minute walk to the shrine. Alternatively, a 20minute walk from Asakusa station.