In a somewhat worn out stretch of south Osaka known as Shinsekai (new world), there are many Billiken figures.
Billiken was originally a charm doll made by an American in the early part of the twentieth century.
Billiken is part elf - pointed ears, odd smile, elongated head - and part quasi-Buddha.
The boom in Billiken dolls outside of Saint Louis, where the inventor lived, was brief.
However, Billiken lives on in Japan, particularly in Osaka.
Billiken became famous at a long-gone amusement park, Luna Park, in Shinsekai. The park was next to the Tsutenkaku Tower. According to local legend, when the park closed in 1923, the wooden statue of the Billiken was stolen.
Almost sixty years later, in 1980, a replica was placed at Tsutenkaku Tower. That replica is now on the observation deck, and the area is full of many Billiken.
Visitors place a donation and then rub his feet for luck.
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Books on Japan
Friday, November 25, 2011