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New Year Special: Celebrating the Toka-Ebisu Festival at Nishinomiya Shrine

New Year Special: Celebrating the Toka-Ebisu Festival at Nishinomiya Shrine

This time four years ago in 2020, I was at Nishinomiya Shrine (西宮神社 Nishinomiya jinja) for the Toka Ebisu Festival (十日戎) as part of the New Year Celebrations. "Toka" (十日) in Japanese refers to the 10th of the month. During this period, people pray to Ebisu, the patron deity of commerce, for success in their businesses. 

 

Dedicated to the God of Fortune, Prosperity, Fishing, and Commerce

Festivities in full swing at Nishinomiya Shrine (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

 

Nishinomiya Shrine is a 5-minute walk from JR Nishinomiya Station (西宮駅). The festivities were already in full swing by the time I arrived at the temple grounds.

 

Prayers for peace and abundance. (Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

This tradition is particularly strong in the Kansai Region and mainly Osaka because the city was historically rich with merchants plying their trades. While there are many shrines dedicated to Ebisu, Nishinomiya Shrine is the main shrine, akin to the headquarters. In Japan, Ebisu is revered as the God of Fortune and Prosperity, Fishing, and Commerce. At the same time, Ebisu (恵比寿) reminds me of 财神爷 (cai shen ye, God of Fortune), a prominent figure in traditional Chinese myths. 

 

Bottles of Yebisu as offerings on display. (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

 

While walking around, I saw bottles of premium Yebisu Beer stacked atop each other, aptly chosen as its logo featured a cheery Ebisu seated cross-legged, seemingly proud of his catch under his left arm and a fishing rod in his right. 

 

Toka Ebisu Festival_Bamboo branches Large.jpeg (378 KB)

Fancy a fukuzasa? (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

 

Crowds of people were queuing for amulets (お守りomamori) and offerings for Ebisu. There were also lucky bamboo branches (福笹 fukuzasa) for sale—perfect as decorative hanging ornaments at home. 

 

Star of the Show: A giant tuna

Star of the show—the giant tuna from Kagoshima Prefecture. (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

 

While walking around, what caught my attention was probably the star of the show that day—a giant tuna (マグロ maguro) placed on the table with 5-yen coins and 1,000-yen bills plastered on every square inch of its body. 

 

Hailing from Kagoshima Prefecture in southwestern Japan, it measured about 2m in length with an approximate weight of 200kg. Donated by the eastern Kobe marine wholesalers cooperative and other business enterprises, it was dedicated to Ebisu to appease him and subsequently bless his worshippers. 

 

Representatives of the local fisheries association lined up in front of the main altar alongside several shrine maidens to pray for an auspicious new year. 

 

Open your mouth, let me see what’s in there! (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

 

At closer glance, I found some coins piled neatly in its mouth. It was fun observing people attempting to stick their ‘fortune coin’ gingerly on its body while not causing the other coins to slip off, hoping to bring home some wealth bestowed by Ebisu.

 

After some hesitation, I pulled out a coin from my purse and joined in the challenge since I could not resist touching the tuna’s body, like everyone else.

 

Snow crabs

How creatively placed! (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

 

Second to the star of the show were snow crabs laid side by side with each other. It tickled me to see coins positioned between their pincers, because it felt as though people were vying for prime real estate by being as creative as possible. 

 

Toka Ebisu Festival_Temple.jpeg (341 KB)

Bagged home a temple stamp. (Image credit: Qiu Ting) 

 

Visiting a shrine during the Toka-Ebisu Festival is a whole new experience. Inspired by the encounter, I waited in line to get a temple stamp (御朱印 goshuin) as a keepsake.

 

(Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

At huge festivals like these, I always enjoy seeing the shrine priests and maidens carrying out their duties with dedication. I also love attending cultural festivals in Japan because they offer a lens that allows me to understand the Japanese’s way of life, their customs, beliefs and traditions that they have held strongly to—for centuries.

 

Nishinomiya Shrine (西宮神社) 
Address: 1-17 Shakecho, Nishinomiya, Hyogo 662-0974, Japan
Nearest station: JR Nishinomiya Station (西宮)
Access: 5-minute walk from JR Nishinomiya Station
Opening hours: 05:00–19:00 (Open daily)
Tel: +81 798-33-0321

 

Header image credit: Qiu Ting

 

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