Translated by Michiyo Nakashima
Nishinomiya Ebisu Shrine -Especially unique and a bit different than others-
Written by NakanoArito
During New Year’s holiday, Japanese people go to shrines of their hometowns and pray for the New Year to be blessings for them.
There are a millions of shrines in Japan. Nishinomiya shrine is one of them, but this shrine is especially unique and a bit different than other shrines.
Nishinomiya shrine has been known for Ebisu: the god of wealth as the enshrined deity that blesses prosperity and rush of business for people since Heian period.
There are about thirty-five hundreds of shrines that enshrine Ebisu as a deity. Miho shrine in Shimane, Ebisu shrine in Kyoto, and Nishinomiya shrine in Hyogo are the big three Ebisu shrines, where many people come to visit and pray for their prosperity.
The grand head shrine of Ebisu
There are two kinds of gods in Ebisu. Kotoshironushi: an ancient Japanese god and Hiruko-gami.
When Ebisu is written as 恵比寿 and/or 恵比須, that means Kotoshironushi: an ancient Japanese god who was a son of Okuninushinomikoto: the deity of magic and medicine celebrated at Izumo grand shrine. You will see an image of this Ebisu on a label of a glass of Sapporo Ebisu beer.
On one hand, when it’s written as えびす様 or 蛭子, it refers to 蛭子神: Hirukogami. According to Japanese mythology, Hirukogami was born between Izanami and Izanagi who produced many other gods in japan. Hiruko couldn’t stand even when he was three, so he was abandoned into ocean. And he was celebrated as a god at where he was drifted. Nishinomiya shrine is the grand head shrine of Hirukogami. This is how the myth of Hirukogami originates from.
Aramitama in Nishinoomiya shrine
At Nishinomiya shrine, there are Nigimitama and Aramitama. Nigimitama represents gentle side of Ebisu, whereas Aramitama represents savage side. Usually there are these two mitama: souls at big shrines, so it is a best way to worship both souls at the shrine.
“Ebessan” on the sign is a sobriquet of Ebisu-san.
There is a biggest Ebisu shrine event called Tokaebisu on January 10th every year. It is common for people in Kansai and west Japan to visit the shrine to pray for their success in businesses. It is crowded with people like New Year’s first shrine visit.
Many people gather at Ebisu shrine to share the prosperity as much as possible. Lucky bamboo branch is distributed to visitors at this festival. Bamboo is strong and supple, so it’s represented as a symbol of prosperity. There are decorations on bamboo grasses as talisman. People bring the lucky bamboo branch home and put it in their houses. If you see people holding bamboo branch on the street or on a train that’s a lucky bamboo branch from Ebisu shrine.
Fukuotoko: Lucky Men
There are events in places during Tokaebisu.
Starting point of Lucky Men race.
One of the famous events is Lucky Men race. As soon as the shrine’s drum sounds at 6am, a crowd of men sprints 230 maters from the front gate to the main hall. The top three men are given the title of Lucky Men who are believed to receive many blessings through out the year.
Map of Nishinomiya shrine
At 4am on January 10th, Tokaichi Ebisu festival is held. During the festival, the main gate is closed until the festival is finished at 6am. Thus the Lucky Men race became an established custom since people are allowed to go inside the gate from 6am. Actually men and women of all ages are welcomed to participate in the race, so it would be a great idea to join the race if you are interested.