Playing for Luck in the Coming New Year: Hagoita-Ichi Festival

Playing for Luck in the Coming New Year: Hagoita-Ichi Festival

Fallon Leung

The annual Hagoita-Ichi is an annual Battledore Fair which occurs every year in mid-December. A hagoita battledore is a wooden plank which served as a predecessor for modern badminton and it is paired with a shuttlecock known as a hane. The game Hanetsuki is a traditional New Year’s game in Japan played with battledores and shuttlecocks, with rules similar to badminton. Since the Muromachi Era (1333-1568), the game Hanetsuki began as a rite to ward off bad luck and evil spirits, which then evolved into a game that girls play with one another. The game can be played with multiple players, or it can be played by a single player. The rule of the game is to keep the shuttlecock aloft in the air as long as you can, whether by passing it to one another or hitting it up by yourself. How many times it can be hit aloft indicates the amount of luck one obtains for the next year, but the hagoita has recently become more of a good luck charm that is elaborately ornamented, and has thus turned into a beautiful collectible item rather than an instrument for a game.

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I arrive at Asakusa after sunset, since winter time in Japan means the sun goes down below the horizon shortly after 4 o'clock, and it’s not easy to get to Asakusa when not on the Ginza line. Despite the darkness, festival stalls are brightly lit and there are plenty of people around Senso-ji Temple as it is illuminated by spotlights and streetlights.

There are tens of stalls around the temple, with each vendor peddling different paddles and ornaments to fit with the New Year’s theme. Hagoita vary in size, from being impressively grand and artisanal, to being small and personable enough to fit the palm of your hand. Common designs show depictions of Geisha and Kabuki actors and stories, but there are also many with rooster designs as 2017 is the year of the Rooster according to the Lunar Calendar. I’ve also spied several anime-themed hagoita, with classics such as Doraemon and Pikachu up to newer anime such as Osomatsu-san.

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Edo-styled designs are the prominent aesthetic for the hagoita, as the paddles really hit their stride around the Edo period by having famous Kabuki actors as artistic features. These are known as Oshie-Hagoita, where portraits of Kabuki are created out of cloth and cotton and pasted upon the paddle to give a 3D effect. The complexity of the designs that go along with the traditional art style, as well as each stall having unique artistic differences while keeping with similar themes, make hagoita attractive collectibles to have.

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While the Hagoita-Ichi have several stalls dedicated to hagoita, there are several stalls dedicated to other goods. There was one stall that sold dolls alongside the shuttlecocks that go with the hagoita as part of the hanetsuki game. Several others sold hand-painted kites and ceramics, and there was even a game stall where one can throw shuriken to win a prize. I’ve had my hand at the game twice, once on Saturday December 17th where I got lucky with my throws and got a Pichu plush, and the second on Sunday December 18th where I got nowhere near the target and received a small consolation prize.

I should probably play some hanetsuki so I could get luckier in the new year.

If you missed the Hagoita-Ichi festival and have a yearning to own a hagoita of your own and are still in Japan during the winter holidays, one can find hagoita in department stores such as AEON Mall.