- What is the [bettara-ichi] that has continuied since the Edo era?
- What is Bettara-zuke?
- What are the highlights of the Bettara ichi?
- 1. Over 400 stalls to pick your favorite from
- 2. foods from a long-established store
- 3. Get a Goshuin (red stamp) for only this day
- 4.Omikoshi: The Exciting Festival Parade!
- 5. Participate in the last Bon dance of this year
Have you heard of the “Bettara-ichi”, a festival in Nihonbashi, with a history dating back to the Edo Era?
It is simultaneously the annual festival of two shrines in the Nihonbashi area, and a marketplace for the Bettara-zuke, a famous Tokyo specialty.
The event hosts 500 festival stands, shrine parades, and Bon-dancing competitions. The road is made into a pedestrian zone, and is bustling with crowds every year.
For this article, we participated in the festival that took place over the two days of, October 19th and 20th, of 2019. We will cover some highlights, as well as the festival’s long history!
What is the Bbettara-ichi that has continuied since the Edo era?
[Bettara ichi] held every October 19th and 20th
[Bbettara-ichi] is held every year from October 19th to 20th in the area from Kodenmacho Station to Ningyocho Station (near Nihonbashi Honcho and Daidenmacho). During these two days, the entire area is closed off to vehicles, and about 400 stalls (Yatai) open up to the visiting crowds.The festival offers shrine parades and Bon-festival dancing, making food just one of the many ways of enjoying the event.
Held mainly in Odenma cho and Nihonbashi Honcho
Originally, Bettara-ichi was a spiritual festival, held annually for the Takarada-Ebisu Shrine in Nihonbashi. The area’s proximity to the Edo Shogunate made it a thriving commercial district, and hotspot of circulation for a variety of crafts and products such as Kimono materials, seafood, and paper. (there is a paper merchant that still continues to be in business today!) Every year on October 20th, the “Ebisu “Assembly” - A merchant’s gathering to wish for good business and family safety - is held.
The original festival was only on October 20th, but the market that consistently emerged the day before, on the 19th to sell tools for the annual event, slowly merged with it to make a bigger festival. Somewhere along the way, pickled daikon radish -- the Bettara-zuke -- came to be sold at the street stalls, and gradually became the focus of the festival.
What is Bettara-zuke?
The Bettara-zuke, that has been eaten since the Edo period
Among the many food stalls that line up for today’s Bettara-ichi, you will see many that are there to sell Bettara-zuke — the festival’s famous pickled daikon radish. There are even mailing booths for people who want to buy large quantities of and ship them!
Tight rows of stalls
Bettara-zuke is made by pickling daikon radishes in sugar and koji (a rice molded with healthy “koji fungi”, used often as a fermentation catalyst). Its origin is said to be in the annual festival of Takarada Ebisu Shrine, where it was sold regularly. Back then, Bettara-zuke were sold without any paper wrapping, and plastic bags did not exist. The pickles were taken home simply bundled in rope, allowing their liquid to smear on the kimono of other shrine visitors. This common occurrence gave the pickle the name “Bettara”, which is an ideophone describing the image of this “smear” (-zuke simply means “pickle”).
It turns out that this Bettara-zuke was a favorite of Yoshinobu Tokugawa, the 15th and last shogun of the Edo Shogunate. The unique flavor of this pickle must have even had him hooked too!
Bettara-zuke, pickled in sugar and Koji
When people hear pickled daikon radish, many of them will likely think of the Takuan — a popular pickle known for its yellow color and sweet and sour taste — but the Bettara-zuke has many features setting itself apart from it.
The first difference is in its taste, where the Bettara-zuke is typically much sweeter.
The processes of their making also have one crucial difference, and it is that the daikon is dried for Takuan, and not for Bettara-zuke. Bettara-zuke is a pickled raw daikon, which means its final product is much more moist, and has a fresher, fruit-like texture compared to the crunchiness of Takuan.
Because of their higher water content, Bettara-zuke don’t preserve as well. It’s best to eat them within a week of purchase.
At the Bettara-ichi, you have to try the Bettara-zuke!
Bettara zuke, sold in a barrel
At the Bettara-ichi, many stalls can be found selling Bettara-zuke. Popular among them is the Bettara-zuke of Tokyo Niitaka-ya, a long-time business and favorite of the Imperial Household Agency. Their balance of salty and sweet flavors is exquisite, and is great eaten as is, or diced and mixed with other foods.
Some stalls sell the Bettara-zuke with their skin
At any of the stalls, Bettara-zuke are sold at around ￥1000. Although they are more commonly sold skinless, there are also stalls that sell Bettara-zuke with their skin intact. The crunchy skin offers a different texture from the skinless variants, and we highly recommend trying them out.
Nihonbashi’s post office offers a shipping service
If you plan on buying large quantities of Bettara-zuke, we recommend using the post office stand’s shipping service. You’ll find them at a corner of the market.
Bettara-zuke carry a strong sweet smell that may escape the carrying bags, so this is a great service for buyers looking to go home via public transit. Of course, it’s perfect for people hoping to send them as gifts too.
The service is open until 18:00 on both days.
Highlights from Bettara-ichi: Annually on October 19th and 20th!
The lanterns create a festive atmosphere
The Bettara-ichi is held annually from October 19th to the end of October 20th. It is an active market of the Bettara-zuke pickles, but the festival’s origins are in the Ebisu Assembly — an annual shrine-gathering of merchants for good luck and safety. Naturally, you’ll see the kinds of exciting events you would expect from a festival. For this year, we have visited the festival on October 19th. The next section will introduce the Bettara-ichi’s many highlights aside from the Bettara-zuke vendors.
1.Over 400 Vendors: Find your Favorite!
For the two days of the festival, the Entire Odenmacho Area where the Bettara-ichi takes place is closed off to traffic. As the road becomes a full pedestrian zone, over 400 vendors open up for business. This year’s October 19th and 20th happened to land on a weekend, giving the festival a huge turnout! The sheer number and variety of food and drink vendors alone were enough to make our day!
The streets bustling with people
The vendors weren’t just festival classics like chocolate-coated bananas and okonomiyaki. “Matsumiya Shoten”, whose popular stall usually stands in Sugamo Jizo Shopping Street, also showed up. Their specialty is home-made shichimi chili. You can customize your own seasoning here!
You can make your own shichimi with your favorite formula
2.Enjoy the History of these Businesses at their Stalls!
"Ningyocho Imahan" stalls in front of Sugimori Shrine
Among the 400 and more vendors, you will also see Tokyo’s many long-running businesses. On the street in front of Suginomori Shrine, you will see a stall by Ningyocho Imahan selling their ground meat cutlets and meat buns. This specialty restaurant of Japanese foods such as Sukiyaki and Shabushabu, does not fail to deliver in their stall foods. Anything off of their menu is an exquisite representation of the meat’s natural flavor.
At “Uohisa”, you can purchase their specially [Kasuzuke] for a special price.
Nearby, you will also see the curtains of “Uohisa”, famous for their “kasuzuke”. Kasuzuke describes a fish, marinated in “Sakekasu” ― a sweet, solid residue of sake fermentation.
A long line-up forms, with people hoping to get their hands on Uohisa’s kasuzuke at a special price, given only at Bettara-ichi.
The brush specialty store “Edoya” is also bustling
There is also Edoya, a brush store in Odenmacho that participates in the festival by displaying its products outside. Crowds of people rushed to take advantage of Edoya’s special festival pricing, and by 16:00 when we arrived, many of the brushes were already sold out.
Their popular hair burhs was also put on special pricing!
At Bettara-ichi’s vendors, many of Tokyo’s old and loved businesses sell their products at a special price. You may stumble across some great value here!
3.Get a Festival-Exclusive “Goshuin” (Red Stamp)
Visitors gather at Takarada-Ebisu Shrine
Takarada-Ebisu Shrine, the star of the shrine festival, is also providing Goshuin stamps. These are red stamps accompanied by a date and shrine name, added to the “stamp books” of shrine-goers. Every shrine has its own unique stamp, making the Goshuin a sort of souvenir or collector’s piece.
After finishing your prayers at the shrine, find the line-up that extends into the nearby parking lot. Only on these days, your stamp will include the text “Bettara-ichi”.
A lot of people are lined up for the limited red stamp that is only given for this day
Although there will be signage everywhere in the Bettara-ichi guiding people to Takarada-Ebisu Shrine, you can also look for a giant red lantern. This lantern reads “Bettara-ichi Takarada Ebisu Shrine”, and hangs directly in front of the shrine.
A big red lantern marks the entrance of Takarada Ebisu Shrine
Alongside Takarada-Ebisu, there is another shrine that hosts the Ebisu Assembly on these two days. This is Suginomori Shrine, Nihonbashi’s other shrine dedicated to the god Ebisu. It is a 5-minute walk from Takarada-Ebisu shrine in Horidome-cho, and also provides Goshuin stamps.
Sugimori Shrine,located in Horidomecho
This shrine is characterized by its stone Tori-i gate. The stamps here come written either as “Suginomori Shrine” or “Suginomori Ebisu God”, and both can be obtained with a 500 yen fee.
Left: Suginomori Shrine’s Goshuin / Right: Takarada-Ebisu Shrine’s Goshuin (Both 500 yen)
4.Omikoshi: The Exciting Festival Parade!
Omikoshi that carried at Bettara ichi
An “Omikoshi” is a portable shrine transporting the deity, and the star of any shrine parade. The Omikoshi’s procession through the streets, and the sight of its extravagant decorations rouse up energy in onlookers. At Bettara-ichi, the Omikoshi is carried in the late afternoon of the 19th.
First, the children’s Omikoshi takes to the streets around 16:00 as the sun begins to set, from in front of Takarada-Ebisu Shrine. Behind the ringing drums, the children follow holding the ropes that connect to the Omikoshi. The energetic shouts of children fill the air, building up the festival spirit.
The drums lead the Omikoshi
The kids wear happi, and carry the omikoshi
Just about when the children’s Omikoshi is nearing the end of its route, the adults’ Omikoshi begins its rounds. The way they fire up the crowds with their powerful voices, shows they are a different beast from the children’s parade; the passersby couldn’t help but stop and look, and I was no exception. There was a true feeling of unity, like the entire town was collaborating to make Bettara-ichi happen.
The powerful Adult Mikoshi
5. Participate in the last Bon dance of this year
At the end of the second day of Bettara-ichi, a Bon-odori (odori meaning “dance”) takes place. This is a dance celebrating the “Obon”, an annual festival of the late summer. The Bon-odori here is Tokyo’s last of the year. Dance along to the music, and it’s sure to give summer the send-off it deserves!
Enjoy the Area-wide Festivities of Bettara-ichi’s 2 Days!
Bettara-ichi is a festival of culture and history, dating all the way back to the Edo period. These two days, where the Ebisu Assembly brings together the entire Odenmacho area to host the festival, is a valuable tradition of the town. Will you look for your favorite Bettara-zuke, chase special prices from famous stores, or enjoy the Omikoshi parades and festival dances… or do all of the above? There are many ways to experience Bettara-ichi, so be sure to enjoy all of its offerings!