Having just experienced my first new year in Japan, I didn’t expect that another major festival will be celebrated after just a matter of days. This was the Tōka Ebisu Festival, in honor of Ebisu-sama, the deity of fishing, business prosperity, and luck. Ebisu-sama, or more affectionately known as Ebessan in the Kansai area, is very popular among fishermen and business merchants. And since Osaka has long been known as a merchant town and a gateway for trade, most local businessmen make it a point never to miss this festival which is held every year from January 9 to 11, making it one of the major festivals in Kansai. The largest crowds head to Nishinomiya Ebisu Shrine (the head shrine in of the Ebisu Shinto sect in Japan) and Imamiya Ebisu Shrine in Osaka, where it is said to attract millions of people.
Since I could not afford to go to the Nishinomiya or Imamiya Ebisu Shrine because they are too far from where I live, I made my way to the local Yanagihara Ebisu Shrine near Hyogo Station, where there was quite a festival on its own. While the new year festival at Minatogawa Shrine attracted an overwhelming crowd in itself, Tōka Ebisu was an even bigger and more festive event. In fact, they had to close several portions of roads in order to accommodate the bustling array of shops that catered to the hoards of visitors on this festival. This just shows how much faith the Kansai people have in the deity of luck, Ebessan.
(actually, the main gate is the exit from the shrine festival grounds).
So as I made my way to the entrance, the crowd of worshipers gradually thickened as they got closer to the honden. This time, I got to experience ringing the shrine bells to call the attention of the Gods before I said my prayers.
Unlike the new year festival however, I felt that the Toka Ebisu had a more lively atmosphere to it. I could hear live traditional music playing in the background, the roaring trade of bamboo branches and lanterns, and the energetic “Irasshai! Irasshai!” calls of vendors selling hot food to people who got up early on a cold winter morning, in order to pay their respects to Ebessan. The shrine attendants bustled about as visitors purchased fukusasa (福笹), a sacred bamboo branch decorated with various lucky charms and tokens to attract good fortune for the year to come.
Outside vendors sold other lantern variations such as a rake or a basket.
There was a small stage in the middle of the shrine grounds where performers reenact a sort of sword dance to traditional music.
After obtaining the Shrine seal (朱印) and buying myself an omikuji (I got great luck or daikichi this time), I ventured outside the shrine grounds to take a look at what the other stalls had to offer. Since it was only about 11 a.m, the crowd was not as thick as it would be during nighttime when there are probably more performances and events.
Most of the stalls outside were selling food. Apart from the staple takoyaki, okonomiyaki, karaage, yakisoba, and taiyaki, there were coated apples and bananas, roasted corn, strawberry mochi, chicken fritters, manju, skewered meat, and even some sort of boiled shellfish.
Since it was noon by the time I was about to go home, I decided to buy something to to take home for luncheon. I wanted something that cannot be normally bought at a supermarket or convenience store, so I decided to go for an obscure-sounding dish called horumon udon, and also chocolate and caramel taiyaki for dessert (normal taiyaki comes in anko and custard flavors only). I was soo hungry I forgot to take a picture >_<. The horumon udon was good enough… until I started eating the meaty bits. They were the sort of chewy bits that teeth couldn’t seem to cut through no matter how much you chew, so I started to wonder exactly what I was eating. I looked up what horumon means, and it turns out… they were pig or cow innards! Blegh! Never again! Nevertheless, I finished up the udon noodles (horumon excluded) as it was mottainai not to, and the taiyakis were great!
The festival may not be as grand as the one in Nishinomiya or Osaka, but it was nevertheless worth the cold and early morning trip. 🙂