If you are visiting the Tokyo area during the month of November, you’re in luck! The Tori no Ichi Fair is a Tokyo pastime that has occurred every year since the Edo era. Celebrated at the stroke of midnight on the day of the rooster, which occurs every 12 days, the fair consists of a variety of shop owners that sell rakes to bring in good fortune and business prosperity! Naturally, many shop and business owners attend this event in droves to purchase the perfect rake for themselves or their business. Not wanting to miss out on the fun and excitement of the fair, I grabbed my camera and headed out to Asakusa.
What is Tori no Ichi?
Tori no Ichi dates way back to the Edo era and originates from a fair that was held in the suburbs of Edo, where Ohtori Shrine now stands. In its original form, it was a harvest festival and it was dedicated to the day of the rooster after a similar festival collected and released roosters in front of Senso-ji. As the event evolved throughout the years, many came to wish for good health, good fortune, and good business. One of the things that makes Tori no Ichi so special, are the Bamboo Rakes which are elegantly decorated and are said to bring happiness and prosperity.
So, why rakes?
Rakes were used to figuratively “rake” in your luck, gold and silver, and fortune for your business. Though originally paired with only an ear of rice, the rakes’ designs have significantly expanded to thousands of varieties for the Tori no Ichi fair alone. In the Edo era, they added masks of Okame, which were known to bring good luck. Later on, more intricate designs were added, such as: treasures, Japanese fans, portable shrines, animals, and more! These days, you can even find some decorated with cats, dogs, pandas, and even a huge cat paw!
An Intricate Way of Buying
So, as I was wading through the hundreds of people, I was stunned at the huge selection of rakes that were available at the over 100 shops! Luckily, I was accompanied by a friend that was born and raised in the Asakusa area. Apparently, there is a specific way to purchase the rakes that involve a tradition that has been passed down throughout the years.
It all starts with negotiation, or haggling. Say if you want to buy a 50,000 yen rake, you ask the shop owner to make it 40,000 yen. Then a light-hearted and amusing conversation will take place, going back and forth with the shop owner like so:
“No way! That’s a steal, how about 48,000 yen?”
“Hmmm, still too expensive. How about 42,000 yen?”
“Sorry, 47,000 yen is all we can do.”
“How about 45,000 yen, final offer!”
“Ok, Ok! 45,000 yen it is.”
Now that you’ve haggled the price down, the tradition states that you hand the staff the original amount, 50,000 yen in this example, and as the staff gives you your change, you refuse and give the change back to them saying “This is a gift for you.”
A Rowdy Celebration!
If you followed the steps above, you will be treated to a unique display of thanks that you’ll be hearing all night long. As a sign of appreciation, the entire shop’s staff will clap their hands rhythmically to show their appreciation and to bless you with good health, luck, and business. These lively shouts are what makes the fair feel alive and they are impossible to miss! Throughout the time I was there, I must have heard over 100 shouts going on simultaneously for 3 hours. It really helps bring a smile to your face to see so many locals carrying out traditions that began so long ago.
When is Tori no Ichi held?
It all starts with the Ichiban Taiko, or the first drum at midnight of the first day of the rooster (Tori no Hi) in November. The fair lasts for 24 consecutive hours, with many shops, street food vendors, and more congregating around Ohtori shrine. Depending on the year, it isn’t unheard of to celebrate the fair up to 3 times within the month, being called Ni no Tori and San no Tori respectively. For Japanese people, this is a seasonal tradition which reminds all that the New Year is approaching. Expressing their excitement to welcome the New Year and their gratitude to their customers and friends, many say “Have a happy new year!” instead of “goodbye” or “see you later” at the festival.
An Experience you Shouldn’t Miss
With so many people shouting and clapping, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement of the fair as well. I managed to find a cute cat rake that I was eyeing since I arrived and managed to “haggle” down the price, participating in the old tradition. I gave back my change to the shop owner and was immediately greeted by 5~6 people all clapping and cheering for me. It was a surreal experience, and even though it was 2:00 a.m. in the morning, I was fully awake and surrounded by a lively atmosphere of shop owners and customers alike. I left the fair soon after with a smile on my face, looking forward to coming back next year and experience it all over again.
Although the first fair of the month is the most important, it is always held a second time in the month of November (sometimes even a third!), so even if you miss the first one, you can always check out the second one! I hope you get to experience this fair for yourself, it’s definitely an experience you shouldn’t miss! Thanks for coming along with me on my report of the Tori no Ichi fair and until next time “Happy New Year!”