Tori no Ichi is an open-air market festival held in Japan on the day of the Rooster in November, as determined by the Chinese calendar. At the festivals, markets are set up in front of or near to Shinto shrines, and charms- most often decorated bamboo rakes called kumade- that are said to bring the owner good fortune in the coming year are sold to visitors.

Kumade literally means “bear hand”, since, when you think about them, rakes are shaped rather like a large hand with claws. Rakes were chosen generations ago as a sign of good luck since they can be used to draw things– in this case wealth and good fortune– towards us, and the practice of buying ornamental rakes has been common in Japan since the Edo period (1600-1867).

Wanting to check out the lively festival and ask for continued success for the website next year, our reporter Mr. Sato headed over to the famous Hanazono shrine in Shinjuku to purchase a kumade on behalf of RocketNews24.

However, having never purchased one of the charms before, he discovered that he had more than a couple of things to learn…

Our reporter arrived at the heaving market knowing that he wanted to pick up one of the good luck charms, but with so many on offer he had little to no idea of where to start.

“I should probably go for one priced at around 10,000 yen (US$125),” our intrepid Mr. Sato thought to himself as he made his way through the crowds. After all, the charm was intended to help with the continued success of the website, so he decided that it was better not to be too stingy!

But with little more than that figure in mind, he soon found himself floating around the market simply asking sellers “How much is this one? How about that one?” without paying much attention to the quality or lavishly decorated features of the kumade on display before him.

▼Ordinary rakes these are not…

Thankfully, a generous stall merchant was around to offer a few nuggets of advice to our Mr. Sato:

  • Work your way up

“Speaking to a shopkeeper, I soon found out that it’s better to start out small,” Mr. Sato tells us. Since these charms are intended to bring in good luck, it’s important not to buy one simply by looking at the price tags.

“With each year that passes, depending on how well business has gone, you should buy a slightly bigger kumade the next year as a way of asking for continued growth and good fortune. The size of the charm you choose should be based on your current situation.”

OK, so start small, and aim for expansion. Got it!

  • No haggling, please!

When picking up your kumade, you might want to think twice about asking for a discount or trying to play one merchant off another.

“According to the shopkeeper I spoke with, it’s not a good idea to barter over things that are connected with bringing good fortune. By trying to drive a bargain and save money on their purchase, a person suggests that their dream isn’t all that important to them. Contrastingly, paying a shopkeeper a little cash for a good kumade is kind of like saying ‘thank you for helping me achieve my dream’ and likely to have a positive effect.”

  • Thank you, come again!

“When I asked the store owner what I should do with the kumade next year, he told me in no uncertain terms to bring it straight back.”

As many of you may already know, when it comes to good luck charms in Japan, the idea is to return or replace them each year. If, for example, you bought a health charm on New Year’s day during a visit to a shrine, it’s common practice to return that charm to the same shrine the next year and buy a new one. No matter how attached you are to a charm, keeping it lying around the house for years on end is considered to be extremely bad luck. The same applies to kumade.

Of course, the more cynical among us might suggest that this is simply a ploy on the seller’s part to generate future business, but even if that were true, it’s quite nice to think that this promise to return the charm to its source would result in yearly encounters with the same people. Should both businesses remain in the same area for years, annual visits to the market to buy a new charm allow both buyers and sellers to catch up and see how the other is doing. Now that we come to think of it, there are few customs like this in the western world, and in a way it’s quite nice to think that we can form little relationships of this kind, checking in once a year and making a little tradition out of each visit to the shrine to show appreciation for the good we’ve received…

In the end, our reporter settled on a small 2,000 yen (US$25) kumade, for which he paid a generous 3,000 yen.

Although tipping is not a common practice in Japan, Mr. Sato later commented that “the extra was just as a sign of my gratitude,” which we can’t help but feel was a smart move as well as a nice gesture. He might occasionally dress up as a blue slime from the Dragon Quest games, but he’s all heart, our Mr. Sato…

The second and final Tori no Ichi markets of the year will be held on 20 November (next Tuesday!) at shrines all over Japan. If you’re in the country be sure to head down and rake in some good luck for yourselves!

Title image: RocketNews24 Inset images: Qlife
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