Translated by Nicola
Kick Off Summer At Senso-ji: The Ground Cherry Market
Written by Mai Kawabe
Hundreds of people make their way to Sensoji Temple at the beginning of summer to see the greatest market dedicated to hozuki (ground cherry flowers). Let's take a look at these odd, red flowers.
Around the beginning of summer every year, it seems that the crowds that gather at Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa change ever so slightly. In the hands of these crowds of people, you may find seedlings of an unusual plant being carried ever-so delicately about. These are hozuki, also known as ground cherries or Chinese lantern plants, which will sprout vivid, paper lantern-shaped fruit. Every year in early July, Senso-ji holds its Ground Cherry Market.
What’s the Ground Cherry Market All About?
The Ground Cherry Market is an event where ground cherries that have been blessed or purified by shrines and temples are sold. Visitors come to buy them in order to decorate their houses and ward off misfortune.
There are so many ground cherries lined up, it’s fun even just to observe this Japanese tradition. People come to the ground cherry market, the rainy season opens up, and you can truly feel that summer is beginning.
Genuine ground cherries are sold from summer to autumn. The lantern part of the ground cherry is in fact a part of its stem, and by popping it open you can see the round, red fruit inside. Long ago, young children would play by turning the ground cherry into a whistle.
The Origin of the Ground Cherry Market
Since ancient times, red items have been considered a symbol of good or celebration and thought to ward off evil in Japan. Families would even hang red sorghum from their ceilings in order to protect against lightning strikes. This continued until the early Meiji period, when the sorghum industry suffered severe crop failure, and ground cherry plants became a substitute for the original.
Hozuki-ichi at Senso-ji Temple
Ground cherry markets are found in various regions throughout Japan, but the opening of the market at Senso-ji Temple is especially famous. The market in Senso-ji, which is in the suburb of Asakusa, is held on July 9th and 10th every year. It used to be held only on the 10th, but the sheer number of visitors was rather problematic, so it was extended over two days. The amount of worshippers on these days is equivalent to the amount of visitors over a 46,000-day period, or about 126 years of normal days' worship. If you were to count out 46,000, it would be roughly the amount of individual grains in 26 kilograms of rice.
Every year, a staggering number of people will visit. Many of them will also seek special talismans or placards from the temple too.
On the temple grounds, more than 100 ground cherry plants have been selected for display.
Buying Ground Cherry to Take Home
The seedlings of all the ground cherry bought in the Asakusa market sell equally for 2500 yen. The key is to look for healthy, full-bodied hozuki. Watching the ground cherry colors change helps one appreciate the changing of the seasons.
If you do buy some seedlings, you might want to choose your favorite to turn into a wind chime. After it’s decorated, the chime will jingle peacefully in the wind. Since the majority of wind chimes are also red, it’s said these make fine amulets, and for that reason, they’re often sold together.
For those people who can’t take the seeds home with them, there are also rose branches and fruit. These seeds are a different type, where each seedling is oversized.
If you do bring these home, you can enjoy them as they are for a while.
Costing less than 1000 yen
You choose the ground cherries you like, put them in a basket, and take the whole thing home with you.
Costs up to 500 yen.
They look good even left as is. There are also edible hozuki, but the ones in this market are purely ornamental.
Some people go home with both hands overflowing with hozuki. The market is open until late, but the ground cherries get sold out so quickly that it’s better to give yourself some leeway if you want to buy some.
Senso-ji's Ground Cherry Market
Address: Tokyo, Taito, Asakusa 2-3-1
Dates: July 9th-10th
Hours: 9:00-21:00 (or until all the ground cherries are sold out)
Nearest Station: Asakusa Station (any line)
Access: 5-10 minute walk from all Asakusa Stations
Website: Ground Cherry Market (Japanese)