The mere mention of this word sends over a million people rushing to Imamiya Shrine near the notorious Shin-Imamiya district in Osaka every year in January. Why all this madness just after the peaceful New Year’s holidays with the family? Money, of course. Since the 6th century, people have been coming here to pray to Ebisu, the god of business and wealth. And with 40-50 beautiful shrine maidens selling charms for your bamboo branch, it certainly doesn’t hurt the turnout.
Starting from 10,000 yen and upwards, you can adorn your bamboo branch with charms meant to bring wealth and good fortune, such as small rice bales, old oval coins, and wooden ornaments covered in kanji. After returning home, these adorned branches must be put in a prominent place in order to bring on the good fortune. What’s the use of a 20,000 yen adorned bamboo branch if you can’t even see it?
Some men, more interested in the shrine maidens or “good luck girls” than the charms, often take great care in choosing which shrine maiden he will purchase his charms from. Some shrine maidens have long lines of men waiting patiently with their bamboo branches ready to be adorned, while other shrine maidens who are not so popular try to catch the attention of people passing by in order to sell them charms.
“The shrine maidens at the entrance of the shrine are the most beautiful. The quality goes down as you go further down the line, especially towards the back of the shrine,” observed one man, who religiously attends the festival every year.
Regardless of looks, these 40-50 shrine maidens are chosen from more than 3,000 candidates, in a series of auditions meant to find the best of the best. Not only do these women receive the title of “shrine maiden”, but being a “shrine maiden” also comes with a significant status and many of these women are approached with marriage proposals by a number of interested potential mates. Sure takes the stress out of dating.