Around the 10th of November, a festival called Tori no Ichi is celebrated throughout Japan. The festival originated in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, during the Edo period (when Tokyo was still called Edo), and has evolved since then into a national phenomenon dedicated toward summoning luck before the new year. Temples and shrines set up massive marketplaces full of festival foods and booths selling all kinds of charms and trinkets, particularly engi kumade, or "lucky rakes." These lucky rakes vary greatly in size and complexity, but the basic design includes a bamboo rake and sheaves of rice. The purpose of the rake is to "rake in the luck," as symbolized by the sheaves of rice - which actually, in turn, symbolize cold, hard cash.
(Tori no Ichi celebrations in Asakusa)
Why cold hard cash? Because Tori no Ichi is a festival dedicated to praying for commercial success more than anything else. Take a close look around any shop, restaurant, or other business in Japan, and you're likely to see an engi kumade hanging somewhere on the wall. Merchants purchase the engi kumade during Tori no Ichi and display it on the wall throughout the year, in hopes of attracting good business. When the year is up, the merchant must bring the engi kumade back to the shrine where it was purchased and offer a prayer before purchasing a new one for the next year. If the business grew over the course of the year, a larger, more imposing engi kumade is in order for next year. These engi kumade can be a meter wide or more, and can include all kinds of wild decorations, all with symbolic meaning. Common elements include daruma dolls, mini-lanterns, cranes, pine branches, bamboo leaves and plum blossoms (a New Year's good-luck symbol called sho-chiku-bai...fun fact, the "chiku" in sho-chiku-bai means "bamboo," but the same kanji is also used to spell the word "bakuchiku," which I think you all know), lucky fish, lucky cats, and images of the faces of the Seven Gods of Luck (Shichi Fukujin), especially Benzaiten, goddess of wisdom, wealth, music, art, and female beauty.
(this famous statue of Benzaiten is located
in her shrine on Enoshima Island, Kanagawa prefecture)
And here are some typical engi kumade...
...which brings me to my main point, which is the extra special original handmade engi kumade pictured below. Come the New Year, it appeared mysteriously on the bathroom of a certain bar we're rather fond of..but something tells me that's not Benzaiten on there.
Props for the hanging bat and the toll-tally lucky drumsticks...but however appealing a handmade plushie of Imai Hisashi's head may be, I still have a feeling that Acchan-chan would say that this engi kumade needs more lucky cats.
Live and learn! And no, I'm not telling you where the bar is. Go out and find it for yourself.