yakuza

Seeking prosperity with rakes, booze, hot glue, tattooed Kewpie

酉の市が大好きです。日本の神道では、神秘的なものと幸運を探しながら、熊手やお酒や入れ墨のキューピーからご利益を得られます。浅草はもっと伝統的ですが、花園神社は私の一番のパワースポットです。歌舞伎町と二丁目とデパート本店の間だから、とてもかっこい人が集まります。三十万円の熊手を見ました。去年私は千円のを買って、今年は二千円のにレベルアップしました。来年はすばらしい年になります。

I’ve written before how Tori no Ichi is one of my favorite festivals, with its focus on seeking spiritual intervention for a prosperous year. Perhaps Asakusa is a more traditional place, but I particularly love attending the festival at Hanozono shrine, mid-way between Kabukicho, Ni-chome, and the department stores. The crowd is Tokyo’s most beautiful people: the world of late night drinkers, huge hair for men and women, animal prints, and shiny fabrics.

If it weren’t for the food stalls, it would be easy to miss the entrance on Yasukuni Dori, with the fiver rows of lanterns barely competing with the neon, fluorescent signage, and hundreds of taxis.

The focal point of the festival are the “kumade,” which are good luck rakes made of bamboo, rice, (often artificial) pine, and paper and plastic good luck charms hot glued. There are dozens of stalls, and the most expensive ones need to be carried out by two men. The one below cost 300,000 yen (almost US $4,000).

In addition to kumade sellers, there are many regular festival food stalls, and also make-shift drinking establishments with tables and chairs. I like how the one below wraps around a mature tree.

The convergence of spirituality, drinking and materialism is dizzying. The proprietress of this food and drink stall is wearing a headband full of cash.

Almost anything can represent good fortune. I love how this Kewpie doll, the mascot of Japan’s #1 mayonnaise, also has a headband of cash and a full body tattoo. There seems to be an even higher than usual correlation between this festival and the yakuza who are its sellers and celebrants.

Even the children’s cartoon Anpan man (his head is a round anko bread that can be eaten when necessary) can be incorporated into the rake.

Japan Elections, Economy and Plants

Aso and Hatoyama, Japan election 2009

Today is Japan’s national elections, with the opposition Democratic Party expected to take power in a landslide victory over the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, previously out of power only once since 1955. The electoral shift has been related to the nearly two decades economic decline and a desire for political change.

Recently, the British owner of one of Tokyo’s most expensive plant shops explained to me how the current economic downturn is affecting sales at his store. Global banks, corporate headquarters, and office lobbies have suspended regular deliveries, forcing the plant shop to layoff employees and reduce salaries.

In this difficult economy, the shop’s revenue has become more heavily dependent on government and the yakuza. In anticipation of today’s election, a US political advisor has ordered 480 of his most expensive white orchids, five stems for 50,000 yen ($535) each, for each winner of the lower house of the Diet. That single order is worth $250,000. It is interesting how an election creates direct economic benefits, and the owner is sad that it does not happen more often.

The other clients who have not cut back in spending are the yakuza. According to my source, the yakuza routinely order very expensive plants and flowers to send to their rivals. They also insist that delivery be made by the shop’s truck, even in Osaka and Kobe so that the prestige of the Tokyo shop is circulated publicly. I was taken aback at the idea of sending such lavish gifts to one’s rivals, but apparently the yakuza, like almost all other sectors of this consensus-oriented society, strive to maintain positive relationships with their enemies.