The kumade market is a Japanese New Year tradition taking place during the month of November. Kumade are beautiful Japanese handicrafts. They are mostly found hanging in shops and businesses. But these are not just decorative items. In this article, you will get to know more about kumade.
What is a Kumade?
A kumade is a bamboo rake. But then, what has it to do with the New Year? Well, kumade is said to “rake good fortune” for the coming year. To do so, kumade are decorated with many symbols to attract prosperity, happiness, and luck to their owner. It is mainly business owners that buy kumade before the end of the New Year, to make their business successful for the coming year. The size and price of kumade varies, the smallest cost 2000 or 3000 yen (19 to 28 dollars), and the larger ones 50,000 yen (480 dollars) or more and can weigh up to 150kg.
The meaning behind Kumade
You will find many lucky symbols on the kumade. For example, koban coins, the currency used during the Edo period, or rice barrels, symbols of abundant harvests and therefore prosperity. There are also often small statuettes of turtles or cranes. It is in fact said in Japanese culture that these two animals live 10,000 and 1,000 years respectively. They are therefore a symbol of good omen and longevity. Two other animals are also often represented. First, sea bream. Pronounced “tai” in Japanese, the sound of its name resonates with the word “omodetai” meaning “to celebrate”. Finally, the owl, pronounced in Japanese “fukuro”. And “fuku” in Japanese means “happiness”.
At the end of the year, people bring back to the shrine their old kumade. Old kumade are burned. Large boxes are thus installed in front of the kumade market to collect them. Being a talisman, it is indeed a bad omen to simply throw your old kumade in the trash. Each New Year, therefore, you have to buy a new kumade, preferably bigger than the one you had the previous year because it is a sign that your business is prospering. On the contrary, if the acquired kumade is smaller, it is not a good omen.
Kumade Market: Ootori Shrine in Asakusa
Several kumade markets take place in Tokyo during the month of November. We went to Ootori Shrine in the Asakusa district as it is where this tradition started. Two or 3 markets take place during the month. The first one is called Tori no Ichi. It takes place on the first rooster day of November, according to the lunar calendar. The second market, Ni no Tori, takes place on the second rooster day of the month, 11 days later. Depending on the year, there may be a third market (called San no Tori). The market is open all day, 24 hours non-stop. During each market, more than 100 stalls line up. Each stand tries to be the most creative one by selling the most nicely decorated kumade. All around the shrine, there are also food stalls, in the spirit of the Japanese matsuri.
A special ritual follows the biggest sales. To signify that the deal is closed, the seller and the buyer clap their hands several times following the rhythm of 3,3,3 and 1. This ritual is tejime.
If you are in Tokyo during the month of November, the kumade market is definitely somewhere to go. And why not buy a little one to bring back home?