Nishinomiya Tooka Ebisu Festival

Running every year from January 9th to 11th (the name tooka referring to the main day on the 10th), the Tooka Ebisu Festival at Nishinomiya Shrine draws  as many as a million visitors. The festival celebrates the Japanese god of commerce and sailing: Ebisu. People from all around the Hanshin area (including Osaka, Kobe, Amagasaki, and Nishinomiya cities) flock to Nishinomiya Shrine to purchase charms of good luck called fukuzasa (literally “bamboo grass of good fortune”) available only for a limited time.P1020746 P1020751Accessible via a breezy 15-minute train-ride from Osaka or a 20-minute train-ride from central Kobe, Nishinomiya Station acts as a starting point for the lines of people and food stalls leading up to the shrine complex (a five-minute walk away). P1020697Even if you don’t have much interest in buying a good-luck charm consisting of a decorative plastic wreath, there is also the symbolic first large tuna fish catch of the year, with this year’s tuna coming from Kagoshima in the far south of Kyushu Island, measuring 2.6 meters and weighing 260 kilograms. People line up to stick coins to its skin – a kind of transference of good fortune through simultaneous decoration and donation.P1020728P1020741 P1020734Tooka Ebisu offers something for everyone, with goldfish-catching, a haunted house (化け物屋敷), antiques, charms, and food stands of every kind selling Turkish kebabs, ramen noodles, mini castella cakes, chocolate-covered bananas, chestnuts, and even fried squid on a stick.P1020706P1020717 P1020719 P1020752Besides checking out the food stalls and local religious traditions, I recommend drinking Amazake. Amazake is a drink made with fermented rice and other ingredients, made in a process somewhat similar to that of regular sake rice wine. However, amazake is typically not labelled as alcoholic because of its low alcohol content –making it legally sellable to children, for example. In any case, the custom of drinking amazake in Japan dates back over 2,000 years, and remains a steadfast hit at festivals like Tooka Ebisu due to both its delicious taste and abundance of natural vitamins and minerals. I liked amazake, and thought it tasted a little like horchata or Korean makkori. P1020738

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