Summer is full of festivals in Tokyo with a long history. Apart from the traditional festivals (matsuri in Japanese) where a portable shrine is carried through the streets, there are many flower markets as well such as the Iriya Asagao-ichi.
Hōzuki is very recognizable by its fruit that is in a red lantern shape. This is why the name of the flower translates as Chinese-lantern, Japanese-lantern or strawberry groundcherry in English. The seeds of the Hōzuki fruit are traditionally used in Japan during the Obon festival as offerings to guide the souls of the deceased. Obon is sort of a welcome party for the ancestors back into the home, and these seeds are helping them with the journey back. Obon is held mid-July in most areas in Tokyo, so the market in Asakusa is right on time. The date of Obon fluctuates by region in Japan, but in most regions it is actually mid-August, so Tokyo is rather early.
Selling the Hōzuki on the market, you can see Sensō-ji temple on the left.
About 100 stalls around Sensō-ji temple are selling the Hōzuki in various forms. You can buy just the fruit or you can buy the whole plant. The stalls also have many types of wind bells on offer that are very colorful as well.
The market in Asakusa is held every year on 9 and 10 July. It was started 200 years ago. The legend goes that a servant in a samurai house had a spiritual dream one day about the Atago Gangen god in which he said that the Hōzuki seeds eaten on the day of virtue (24 June) would reduce irritation. The next morning he found 1000 Hōzuki. As there seemed to be some sort of effect, it became an accepted theory and a market was started to sell these seeds. The date of 10 July was chosen because it is a day of big virtue, if you worship at the temple on this day, it is equivalent to performing acts of merit for 46,000 days.
The crowd at the market, you can see the wind chimes hanging at the front of each stall.
Incidentally as the market was held close to Obon, Hōzuki was integrated into the Obon festival. This Hōzuki is now one of the main decorations for Obon, others include cucumber and eggplant that are made into figures with wooden sticks. The cucumber is representing a horse that the ancestors can use for their ride home, and the eggplant represent a cow to get back to heaven.
2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo (it is held around the Sensō-ji temple)
Asakusa Station (main metro station) – 6 minutes walk from exit 6 (Asakusa line, Ginza Line, Tobu Skytree line)
Asakusa Station (Tsukuba Express station) – 4 minutes walk from exit A (Tsukuba Express line)
Opening hours: 8:00-21:00 (only 9 and 10 July!)
Entrance fee: free
Why visit? very colorful collection of Hōzuki
Name in Japanese: ほおずき市