Masaru is an indispensable lucky charm bow toy for New Year’s celebrations in the Fukushima region. At the top of a bamboo stick is a flag inscribed with the words “Good Fortune”. Attached to a hair-string is an unglazed earthenware bell with white rabbit hari on top. When the bell is released from the top of the string, it comes down swinging and making simple yet delightful sound.
At the end of the year, people place this Masaru toy at their household altar, believing it will bring prosperity in business and a rich harvest. From the end of one year to the beginning of the next, major business streets all over Fukushima Prefecture are filled with music and the accompanying calls of “ kyonen ni masaru, fuku masaru, kawansho, kawansho (this new year will be even better than last year, bringing more prosperity. Why don’t you buy? Why don’t you buy?)”. Masaru is a boy’s name and it also means to excel or to be superior. This is why it is associated with the idea of a better year and more prosperity. Masaru also can mean “drive away evil spirits” when it is written with different kanji or Chinese characters. The rabbit hair is said to be associated with “profits”.
At major ceremonies in main shrines and temples such as a year-end fair at the Fukushima Inari Shrine, Juusan Mairi (visit to celebrate being 13 years old), at Kuroiwakokuzouson Mangan-ji Temple and for Dawn Prayer on New Year’s day at Mt. Shinobu Haguroyama Shrine, visitors flock to buy Masaru toys for New Year’s luck. The streets are filled with the pleasant sound of the Masaru bells.
Keiko Yoshida is the owner of Yoshida store in Daito-ku, Tokyo, that creates and sells Takarabune-kumade, or Treasure ship rakes, which are sold only at the Tori Fair of Ootori Shrine. Ms Yoshida was born in 1921 and is a master craftswoman recognized by Nihon Shokunin Meikoukai, the association for the Japanese Master Craftsmen.
Yoshida is currently the only store that creates Takarabune-kumade employing traditional methods, and Ms Yoshida continues to use the methods passed down since the Edo period. She initially started making the rakes to help her husband who was originally a carpenter. After his death, she became the head of the store and single-handedly manages the business.
Takarabune-kumade made by Yoshida store uses only natural materials of bamboo and paper. The whole manufacture process including cutting bamboo, cutting paper using a pattern, coloring, drawing faces, painting exterior, and insertion are done by hand. These techniques have been handed down to Ms Yoshida’s daughter, Kyoko.
Tori no Ichi, or Tori Fair, is a religious fair that takes place every November and is believed to have originally started at Ootori Shrine in Asakusa. Takarabune-kumade, or Treasure ship rake, is a harbinger of good luck, coming from a belief that rakes gather up good luck and prosperity, and they are available only at the Tori Fair of Ootori Shrine. The Takarabune rakes are currently made only in Yoshida store in Asakusa. The size of the rakes varies from 6cm to 3.4m. The store starts making the rakes immediately after the fair, taking a whole year to prepare for the following years event.
At first, paper is cut using a pattern, then lines are drawn followed by coloring. After the faces of Shichifukujin or the Seven Deities of Good Fortune, are drawn, they are inserted into the treasure ship with other decorations and finely balanced to finish. Drawing faces with their unique looks for the seven deities is the most difficult part. This hand drawing technique has been passed down for years since the Edo period. It is now practiced by Keiko Yoshida, head of Yoshida store, and her daughter, Kyoko.
Takarabune-kumade has brightly colored decorations of the seven deities, treasures and a sea bream. Although it is a rake with the tip of a straw festoon arranged to look more like a bow of a ship, it is created to have the look of a treasure ship. The rake, with its dominant red color, is referred to as a “red type” amulet. Takarabune-kumade is one of the most popular good luck charms in the Tori Fair of Ootori Shrine.
The craft of clay doll-making (tsuchi ningyo) in Toyama is a traditional handicraft from the Edo period. The round shape and lovable, naïve expressions on the doll faces are simply adorable.
The history of the Toyama clay dolls dates back some 150 years to the period 1848-54. It is believed that the clay dolls originated when Maeda Toshiyasu, the 10th Han (feudal lord) of Toyama invited Hirose Hidenobu, a potter from Nagoya prefecture, to work for him. Using a kiln he had made for the Chitose Palace, Hidenobu created a kind of pottery--the forerunner of Chitose-yaki (Chitose ware), and the Tenhin Gagyuu as presents for the Maeda clan.
By the end of the Edo Period, the style and shape of the dolls had developed and became more elaborate. This form later became a lucky charm and a children's toy that would be cherished by the public.
At that time, there were many stores at the foot of the castle that were making clay dolls. Only one of them is still in business today: Nobuhide San of the house of Watanabe, who inherited the techniques of clay doll-making from the house of Hirose.
In order to keep the doll-making tradition alive and vibrant, Toyama city itself is making efforts to train people to learn the craft at special associations.
Red beko is a famous local folk toy made in Aizu-Wakamatsu City, Fukushima prefecture.
In the dialect of the Tohoku region, 'beko' means a cow, so 'red beko' is a red cow. The red is said to be effective as a talisman and red bekos are popular as bringers of good luck.
About 1200 years ago, in 807, Tokuichi Taishi built Fukuman-Kozoson in Enzoji Temple. At that time, much wood was brought from the village near the upper Tadami. But the Tadami River was so fast-flowing that the conveyance was difficult. Then, a herd of cattle came from somewhere and helped to carry the wood.
Conveying the wood was very hard, many cows could not make the journey, and only a red cow survived and kept working. The story spread and red beko became a popular gift to encourage the growth of a child and as a charm to ward off plagues.