Tōka Ebisu – the largest festival for people wishing for business prosperity!
On 10 Jan 2021, I visited Nishinomiya Shrine to attend the Tōka Ebisu festival.
The festival is held from 9 to 11 January every year at each Ebisu shrine, and the Nishinomiya shrine is the headquarter of about 3,500 Ebisu shrines all over Japan. In Kansai area, the Ebisu shrines are known as “Ebessan” えべっさん, which is the local nickname of the shrines.
Ebisu is one of the 7 Lucky Gods in Japanese Mythology and believed to grant good luck. Ebisu is the only Japanese God and the others are from different religious roots such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. Ebisu is the God for business prosperity and fishery.
Throughout the three festival days, there are many events like 献湯式 kentōshiki – offering of hot water ceremony by geishas in Arima Onsen, 福男選び fukuotoko erabi or 開門神事 the Shinto ritual of opening the gate – this is an early morning running competition to select the year’s Fukuotoko (lucky man), and 大マグロ奉納 ōmaguro hōnō – offerings to the big tuna where people place their coins onto the tuna wishing for good financial fortune for the year. The selection of the lucky man running race is the most popular event and attracts so many people including several TV broadcast crews every year!
Unfortunately, these events were cancelled or scaled down this year due to COVID-19. However, I thought a tour would still be good as we can still witness the interesting cultural aspects of this unique Japanese festival and enjoy the cheerful atmosphere.
In the morning, I took the Hanshin train and alighted at the nearest station to the shrine, the Nishinomiya around 9:30am.
I thought it was a bit early and not many people will be there yet, but I was mistaken. The station was quite crowded and most of them were headed to the Nishinomiya Shrine for the festival. Even that early, there were already some people on their way home.
This is the entrance gate of the shrine, 表大門 Omote Daimon. It is said that the reconstruction of this gate was dedicated to Toyotomi Hideyori, the son of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who once ruled the nation in the 16th century. The gate is influenced by the gorgeous Momoyama culture then and is registered as an important national cultural asset.
After entering the gate and walking for a while, I found the section where last year’s Fukusasa branches were returned for a ritual called Otakiage お焚き上げ . Otakiage is the tradition of burning the previous year’s religious items such as talismans, amulets, daruma, hamaya, kumade, fukusasa, etc. with sacred fire. This is the way people show appreciation for old lucky charms and then obtain new ones for the year.
Along the shrine approach, we see colorful sailing flags.
Walking a little bit further, and just before entering the 拝殿 Haiden – front shrine (where people stop to pray) and the 本殿 Honden – inner main shrine, there are 授与所 juyōjo shops where you can buy amulets, charms, fukusasa 福笹, etc. Actually you can buy them at many other areas in the shrine premises too.
The Daikokuten is usually decorated along with the Ebisu, Daikokuten 大黒天 (or Daikoku-sama) is the Japanese equivalent of Mahākāla, the Hindu name for Shiva. One will notice that the Japanese Daikokuten looks very happy as he’s the one supposed to bring fortune among the seven lucky gods. Daikokuten is the god of commerce and prosperity and it’s quite similar to Ebisuten, so that’s why they are decorated as a set.
This is the 拝殿 Haiden – the front shrine for people to pray. At the back is the 本殿 Honden – the inner shrine. Actually in the Honden of the Nishinomiya shrine, Amaterasu Oomikami 天照大御神 – Sun godness and Susanoo 須佐之男 – storm god and the young brother of Amaterasu Oomikami are both enshrined beside the main Ebisuten.
In the Haiden area, there is an Ōmaguro hōnō 大マグロ奉納 – or big tuna offering. In a typical year, people queue up and place their coins onto the tuna’s body wishing for financial success for the coming year.
You’ll find many other food and drink offerings in the Haiden premises such as Japanese Sake, rice, seafood, fruits, etc.
9 January is called Yoi Ebisu 宵えびす (Ebis eve). Usually, on this day, the 献湯式 Kentōshiki ceremony is held by the geishas of Arima Onsen from 2:00pm onwards. But this was cancelled due to the pandemic. Here’s a video we shot two years ago. 🙂
For many shrine visitors, their main purpose is to buy a Fukusasa lucky branch. Fukusasa are branches of leafy bamboo decorated with lucky trinkets and ornaments called Kicchō 吉兆 – lucky charm decorations. The meaning of 吉兆 is auspicious and refers to the engimono 縁起物 lucky charm ornaments.
Now it’s my turn to buy the fukusasa! Big 大 costs ¥3,000 while small 小 is ¥1,000. I bought the small one. The Miko-san 巫女 shrine maiden is the one who hands out the fukusasa.
After purchasing fukusasa and walking toward the exit, I saw an Amazake 甘酒 – sweet sake shop. It seems that the shop was a permanent fixture at the shrine (because this year, all Yatai 屋台 – food stalls were not allowed to open to prevent the spread of COVID). In a typical year, there are so many Yatai during the Toka Ebisu festival.
Beside the main shrine for Ebisuten, there are 12 other subsidiary shrines in the Nishinomiya shrine premises. I won’t introduce each of them here, but when you visit a major shrine like this, you might find that people also queue and pray to the smaller shrines.
Hope you enjoyed the live tour with me! Wish you too will have great luck from Ebisu! 🙂
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Tōka Ebisu at Nishinomiya Shrine 西宮神社
|Access||From Hanshin Nishinomiya station, about 5 mins walk to the south west.
From JR Sakurashukugawa station, about 8 mins walk to the south east.
|Date||9 January: 宵えびす Yoi-ebisu – Ebisu’s eve
10 January 本えびす Hon-ebisu – Main Ebisu
11 January 残り福 Nokorifuku – Remaining fortune
|Address and Contact Number||662-0974
1-17 Shake-cho, Nishinomiya-shi, Hyogo+81 798-33-0321