January 10th is my birthday, so I often hear, “Oh, you must be in business then!” The tenth is the day of the Seidai Festival for Ebisu, god of prosperity, and of fishermen, at the Toka-ebisu Shrine. When I was old enough to understand the joke, I made it a habit to go to the festival before celebrating my birthday, a tradition I keep to this day.
From January 8th to 11th, up to 300 stalls spring up, and great crowds descend upon this normally quiet shrine. The 8th is known as Hatsu-ebisu, the 9th is Yoi-ebisu, the 10th is the Seidai Festival itself, and the 11th is Nokori-ebisu. The biggest crowds appear on the nights of the 9th and 10th, after businesses shut and their employees are free to attend the festival. There are always long lines of people queuing to pray and test their luck in the lottery (¥2,000). The best prize is the Ebisu daruma, and other prizes include large red fans, calendars and abacuses. Whatever you win, you also get a fukusasa (lucky bamboo grass); a tradition of the festival. At about three o’clock on the 9th, a parade of Hakata’s geisha, resplendent in full kimono, can be seen on their way to worship at the shrine. They are guided by musicians on the shamisen, flute and tambourines, playing the song of Ebisu.
The two gods of the shrine are Ebisu and Daikoku, who are often paired together as gods of wealth. You can recognize Ebisu’s statues from the fishing rod in his hand and the fish he carries, a familiar image if you’ve ever tried the famous Yebisu Beer! Daikoku carries a sack of rice, and is associated with marriage and fertility.
Make next year a prosperous one for yourself and attend the festival!