One of the best things about going to school in Shinjuku was that the school building was right next to the grounds of Hanazono Jinja, one of the best places to celebrate Tori no Ichi!
What’s Tori no Ichi?
Tori-no-ichi is an annual festival traditionally held in November, on days designated as days of the rooster in the lunar calendar. Tori no Ichi developed in the 18th century when peasants started to bring a rooster to shrines as a token of gratitude. This soon became an opportunity for farmers and as well as merchants to sell their products in a market on the grounds of the sanctuaries, give thanks for the abundance of the past year and propitiate the future for the year to come.
Few stories regard Tori no Ichi. The first one tells that the tradition originated from the Washi Shrine in Hanahata-mura, now Hanahata-cho, Adachi-ku. The story goes that legendary prince Yamato Takeru stopped by Hanahata on his way home to celebrate one of his victories. After that, it is said that a shrine was built with Yamato Takeru as its guardian deity. In the Edo period, on the anniversary of the death of Yamato Takeru in November, the townspeople went to the shrine to pray, however, given its distance from Edo, other temples started to celebrate it as well.
Another story goes that during the Gosannen War (1083), Minamoto no Yoshimitsu, who sided with his brother Minamoto no Yoshiie opposing the Kiyohara clan, devoted his armor to the shrine while praying for victory.
The Tori no Ichi is an event peculiar to the Kanto region, but you can also find it in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture. There is also a theory that goes that Tokugawa Ieyasu introduced the event when he settled in Edo. The theory links to the story of Yamato Takeru, who at that point started being considered a guardian deity not only for warriors but also for merchants.
Tori no Ichi at Hanazono Jinja in Shinjuku
The Hanazono family built Hanazono Jinja in the Edo period, and the many deities it enshrines include Yamato Takeru. According to the official website of the shrine, the tradition to hold a Tori no Ichi market at Hanazono Jinja in Shinjuku dates back to the Meiji era. Being the rooster one of the twelve animals on the Chinese zodiac, its days occur every twelve days. So, depending on the year, there may be two or three markets.
About 600,000 people visit Hanazono Jinja rooster markets every year, making it extremely crowded. The food stalls line up Yasukuni dori as well as the entrance of the shrine, while on the grounds you will find vendors of kumade, wooden rakes adorned with propitiatory decorations. Tradition has it that you start by buying a small kumade, and bring it back from year to year to the shrine to buy a larger one.
Buying a kumade can be interesting, because it is one of the few cases where you can vaguely negotiate on the price in Japan. I say vaguely because it’s more of a game between you and the seller. In fact, after having ‘bargained’, you will have to give the seller the original amount for the kumade and, when they give you the change, you should refuse it by saying it is a gift for the seller.
Another thing you shouldn’t miss is Hanazono Jinja’s impressive lantern walls. The lanterns are set up few days before the festival and they show names of local companies that made donations to the shrine.
- Take a look around before you buy any food – you may find something you like better while exploring.
- All food is take away style, although there are some places where you can sit and eat near the stalls. Apart from eating while walking being bad manners, the crowds on Yasukuni dori and the grounds are too large.
- If you want to avoid big crowds, try to go at lunchtime and the lines will be shorter.
- The atmosphere is more spectacular after sunset, as the lanterns are lit and the kumade stalls open.
- You can buy a kumade as a souvenir, however do NOT negotiate if you can’t speak Japanese.