We’re not quite at the Billiken-foot-rubbing stage of normalcy yet.

While still sitting on the possible cusp of second-wave coronavirus outbreaks in Japan, shops and attractions are slowly getting back to business. Far from a full blown reopening, however, tight restrictions are being exercised in several industries such as amusement park guests being asked to refrain from showing emotions and to practice social distancing with the ghosts in haunted houses.

Now, you might be asking: “Well, at least I can still go and rub the large feet of a monkey-like god statue in Osaka, right?

Wrong! As the following news report shows, visitors to Osaka’s famous Tsutenkaku tower are instructed to instead “air touch” the soles of its famous Billiken statue for the time being.

If you weren’t asking the previous question, then you might now be asking: “What the hell are you talking about?”

It all started back in 1908, when an American artist by the name of Florence Pretz (no relation to the snack) had a vision of this mysterious creature in a dream. After committing its likeness to paper and giving it the name Billiken, Pretz patented her newfound deity as “The God of Things as They Ought to Be.”

Wikipedia/Marguerite Martyn

Around that same time the Meiji restoration was in full swing in Japan, and the country was rapidly embracing Western culture, partly by scooping up the licenses for iconic western figures left and right. This is about the same time that American Kewpie dolls were imported to Japan, only to ultimately become the face of its leading mayonnaise brand.

For better or for worse, a prime minister of Japan during the Billiken fad, Terauchi Masatake, bore an uncanny resemblance to the magical troll and was even nicknamed “Prime Minister Billiken.”


For much of the early 20th century, Billiken lucky charms were enjoying huge popularity in both America and Japan and in 1912 a famous statue of him was placed in the original Tsutenkaku of Luna Park amusement park in what is now the Shinsekai area of Osaka. A Japanese superstition was also promoted that rubbing Billiken’s large protruding feet will bless you with good luck.

▼ Japan also gave Billiken his own theme song, Billiken Samba, at some point

Meanwhile in the US, Billiken-fever began to subside and most of the country gradually forgot about the character. Usage of his likeness became relegated to a few pockets of American culture, most notably as the mascot for Saint Louis University.

▼ Billiken was the winner of Jimmy Fallon’s 2019 mascot slam dunk contest

In Japan too, Billiken was never quite what it was in the early 1900s, and slowly vanished from most parts of the country. It was only in Osaka and the surrounding area that his legacy lived on, in no small part because of his close connection with the heart of the city’s tourism industry.

A wooden Billiken statue, replicating the one installed in Luna Park from 1912 to 1923, was placed in Tsutenkaku in 1979. It was a big draw and so many people rubbed its feet while visiting that they began to develop grooves measuring about 4 centimeters (1.57 inches) deep.


In 2012, on the 100th anniversary of it’s original installation, a new version was installed and currently sits on the observation deck, while the second-generation Billiken was moved to the lower traffic of the fifth floor. Each one still sits there to this very day, ready to dispense good luck in exchange for foot rubs.

And so, that is why Japan will never be quite back to normal until everyone is able to rub the feet of the SLU mascot at the top of a major Osaka landmark.

We’ll get there someday….

Source: Niconico News, Billiken.jp
Top image: YouTube/T.Eguchi
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