Every January, from the ninth to the eleventh, Imamiya Ebisu Shrine in the heart of Osaka becomes the epicenter of what is known as “Ebessan.” The real name of the holiday is Toka Ebisu, but “Toka” itself stands for the tenth of January – the central holiday of the three-day festival.
Ebessan is hugely popular, attracting about one million people come to ask the Japanese god of fishermen (and the face of the beer), Ebisu, for good fortune in the coming year. While the event is packed with stalls selling lucky trinkets and a seemingly endless range of street food, the main attraction is undoubtedly the beautiful young ladies who work at the festival, known as Fuku Musume, or Lucky Daughters.
Who are the Lucky Daughters?
Every fall, there are about three thousand girls all over Osaka who apply to become Lucky Daughters. They go through a very rigorous interview process that eliminates all but fifty young women. While many traditional festivals lack international participants, of these fifty young women, ten of the selected few are foreign students. Of this year’s international Lucky Daughters, there were students from America, China, Belgium, South Korea, Thailand, and Taiwan. Imamiya Ebisu Shrine’s decision to be inclusive and showcase international participants is rather unique.
What do they do?
After the interview process and selection, the Lucky Daughters still have a lot of work to do before participating in Toka Ebisu. They go through another interview process to determine which girls of the fifty will be the special four who will be the representatives of the Lucky Daughter group. While all the girls participate in televised presentations, rehearsals and interviews, the representatives do additional interviews and public relations work.
Once Ebessan finally arrives, the young ladies’ perseverance, patience, and amazing work ethic shines through. While taking photos from behind the scenes, I rarely saw any of the Lucky Daughters take breaks or leave their posts. They work from nine in the morning to nine at night for each of the three days with only a few breaks. Tirelessly, they greet patrons and provide lucky charms, all the while smiling and never once balking at the many camera lenses in their faces and admirers vying for their attention. I was certainly impressed by their maturity and dedication.
What did we do?
We arrived at the Imamiya Ebisu Shrine area at around noon and enjoyed investigating the hundreds of food stalls in the neighborhood. After eating our fill of festival favorites such as buttered potatoes and various fried or grilled things on sticks, we made our way to the shrine itself.
If you are trying to get to the shrine at a specific time, please be aware that it could take you about an hour to get onto the premises if you follow the appropriate signage. While it seemed as though people were entering the shrine from every direction, the banners guiding people coming from the Namba City area directed down a congested side road about a hundred meters away from the shrine.
From the one hundred meter mark, it took us over half an hour to get to the shrine since the security was only letting a certain number of people in at one time. All the converging crowds of pilgrims bottlenecked at the shrine entrance, so be prepared to be squished into a wave as the crowd surges and everyone rushes the entrance when security allows the next group to enter.
Some of the Lucky Daughters are more popular than others, so the lines vary in length. You can also see and meet previous Lucky Daughters. If you don’t want to pray or burn your previous year’s trinkets, you can escape to the side beyond the security line to take pictures.
While Shin-Imamiya Station and Imamiya-Ebisu Station are close by, you can also simply walk from Namba Station. Since there are many food stalls and other stands along the way to the shrine, I would recommend the leisurely walk if you have time.
Address: 1-6-10 Ebisu-nishi, Naniwa-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka