The Tori-no-Ichi (酉の市 – rooster market) is an open-air fair that takes place annually on the Days of the Rooster in November according to the Chinese zodiac.
Formerly, the Japanese used a system of time called jikkan jūnishi (十干十二支), also known as kanshi or eto (干支), where the animals of the Chinese zodiac were assigned to every day of the year as well as the year itself. The Tori-no-Ichi therefore takes place every 12 days in November – usually twice, but occasionally three times. The superstitious say that in years when it occurs three times, there will be many fires.
On the days of the event, festival-goers visit Otori shrines (Otori-jinja) to ask for good fortune in business. Running from midnight to midnight, it is said to be the first event to kick-off celebrations for the New Year.
The fair is sometimes referred to by the familiar name Otori-sama, the patron deity of good fortune and successful business, who is enshrined at Otori-jinja.
Stalls are set-up around the shrines selling lucky bamboo rakes known as kumade that represent “raking in wealth”. They are adorned with items said to bring good luck and the name of the buyer is written on a wooden plaque and added to the arrangement.
The rakes aren't cheap and come in a variety of sizes. According to tradition, one should return the previous year's rake to the shrine and upgrade to a slighter bigger one each year. The bigger the rake, the more luck it is said to bring. Some are so large that they cannot be carried by the buyer alone.
Sellers offer sake to buyers and seal the deal with a ritual known as “tejime” where they rhythmically clap their hands in harmony.
With colorful sights and sounds around every corner, the Tori-no-Ichi is a feast for the senses and should not be missed.
The most well-known Tori-no-Ichi is the one held in Asakusa, however, similar fairs also take place at some 30 shrines around Tokyo including Hanazono Shrine in Shinjuku, Kitano Shrine in Nakano and Ebara Shrine in Shinagawa.
If at all possible, and especially if you are planning to go to Asakusa, go during the day. After nightfall, it gets extremely crowded and they sometimes have to close it off to new entrants. Queues extend all the way down the street to ring the bells and pray for success at the shrine so if you would like to participate, get there early and then you can always hang around to experience the market at night.
Feeling a bit peckish? Never fear. This is a Japanese festival and what is a Japanese festival without food stalls?! Some 200 food vendors are set-up in the vicinity and many people show up just to sample the eats such as Yatsugashira potatoes, said to aid fertility.
The Asakusa Tori-no-ichi takes place at Otori Shrine (Taito-ku) and is about 8 minutes walk from Iriya Station (Shitaya Gate – Exit 4) on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line.
For details of this year's Tori-no-Ichi, please visit their website.
2014 dates: Monday the 10th and Saturday the 22nd of November.