Trivia about Osaka’s Beloved Billiken-san, the God of Good Fortune
Osaka is known as the city of tradesmen, and has long cherished Billiken as a deity of flourishing business. This article introduces some trivia about Billiken.
What Is Billiken-san?
Billiken, affectionately referred to as Billiken-san in Japan, is a statue that welcomes visitors to the observatory of the Tsutenkaku Tower in Shinsekai, Osaka. It is distinguished by a strange expression that looks both like a smile and a smirk, and a playful pose. Billiken-san, however, is actually a proper god. It is beloved as a deity who will listen to a wide range of prayers, be it for a thriving business, passing an entrance exam or successful match-making, so there are always people praying to this particular deity.
The wooden statue of Billiken-san at Tsutenkaku is famous, but other statues can be found in shops and even in people's homes. Billiken-san is a god of good fortune that is a part of people's everyday lives.
Billiken Is Actually a God Born in the US?!
There are various theories about the origins of Billiken-san, but it is generally believed to have been created in 1908 by Florence Pretz, an American artist, based on a mysterious god she saw in a dream. Later, Billiken Company of Chicago began to manufacture and sell statues of Billiken. People around the world were charmed by its unique figure with a pointed head and slanted eyes, and it came to be known as a "Mascot for Happiness" and "The God of Good Fortune". Today, the Billiken is the official mascot of Saint Louis University in the US.
The Billiken was introduced to Japan around 1909. It became popular, especially in the world of the geisha in Japan as a deity for harmony in the household and thriving business. A statue of Billiken was first built in Shinsekai in 1912.
Where to See Billiken-san
There are many places other than the observatory at Tsutenkaku Tower to see Billiken-san. One of the best places to take a photograph is with the large Billiken statue on Tsutenkaku Minami-hondori. Near it is the Billiken Shrine that was built to commemorate Shinsekai's 100th anniversary. The shrine has a bronze statue of the Billiken.
Make a Wish!
The Billiken, which has the words "THE GOD OF THINGS AS THEY OUGHT TO BE" engraved on its pedestal, is an almighty deity. It is said that the Billiken can grant any wish, be it for love, work or a competition, come true.
There is a unique way of making a wish to the Billiken. It is said that your wish will come true if you stroke the soles of its big feet that are sticking out.
See Billiken-san at Kushikatsu Restaurants, a Specialty of Osaka
Kushikatsu is a skewer of meat coated in a batter of flour, egg, and breadcrumbs and deep-fried. It is one of Osaka's specialty dishes that can be enjoyed at reasonable prices, and is not to be missed. The Shinsekai area of Osaka has many famous kushikatsu restaurants that have statues of Billiken-san on display in front of the shop. Touch the Billiken's feet and enjoy some kushikatsu, and both your stomach and soul will be satisfied!
Note that many restaurants prohibit double dipping your skewers in the sauce (once you've bitten into a kushikatsu, you cannot dip it in the sauce again) for hygienic reasons. If you feel you need more sauce once you've bitten into a kushikatsu, you can use a piece of cabbage that will be on the table to scoop out some.
This restaurant has numerous paper lanterns and a large statue of Billiken in front of it. At this restaurant, you can enjoy the Osaka specialty, kushikatsu and horumon-yaki (grilled offal). The recommended items are the Specialty Kushikatsu (100 JPY (excl. tax)) and Quail's Egg (110 JPY (excl. tax)) with a wonderfully rich flavor. Be sure to order the restaurant's signature menu item, Teppan Horumon-yaki (680 JPY (excl. tax)) of offal cooked on an iron plate.
The breadcrumbs of freshly-fried kushikatsu is aromatic and goes perfectly with the soft flavors of the sauce. The horumon-yaki has strong seasoning, and the umami flavors of the juicy fat goes perfectly with a drink. The seasoning makes horumon accessible for those trying it for the first time.
The Billiken at the kushikatsu specialty restaurant, Torakatsu, is wearing a baseball uniform! The uniform resembles that of Hanshin Tigers, which has many fans in Osaka. The Billiken looks adorable with the baseball cap.
The pride of this restaurant is the tasty kushikatsu that are all available for just 80 JPY each. Despite the low prices, there are many ingredients such as beef and scallop, that can definitely not be found anywhere else for 80 JPY. There is also an unusual kushikatsu of choux pastry with cream, so try it for dessert.
This restaurant, which is popular for its crisp kushikatsu fried with a light batter, has a Billiken sitting on a bench in front of it to welcome guests. Why not sit down next to it and take a picture with your arms around it?
The restaurant's recommended kushikatsu are the Japanese Black Wagyu (280 JPY (excl. tax)) and Lamb Tongue (200 JPY (excl. tax)). These are kushikatsu not often found elsewhere, so be sure to try them. The restaurant's specialty Doteyaki (420 JPY (excl. tax)) is a dish of large cuts of Wagyu simmered in soy sauce, and the sweetness of Wagyu spreads through the mouth with every bite. This is a popular restaurant so try to get there when it is relatively less crowded.
Kushikatsu Janjan Janjan Yokocho Branch
This restaurant in an old alley with great atmosphere also has a Billiken statue on display. The restaurant has a wide selection of kushikatsu wrapped in bacon. In particular, the King Trumpet Mushroom and Bacon (130 JPY (excl. tax)) is recommended, with a perfect combination of aromatic king trumpet mushroom and savory bacon.
This restaurant is also known to have some surprising items on the menu. Here, you can order ingredients such as alligator and scorpion rarely found elsewhere. Give them a try if you are feeling adventurous.
This restaurant has a large sign flanked with a crane (tsuru) and a turtle (kame) outside, and three white Billiken statues inside. The beer and highball (whisky and soda) are particularly popular drinks to be enjoyed with the tasty kushikatsu. This restaurant has a large selection of highballs including flavors such as kyoho grape, lime and lemon, which are not common elsewhere.
If you can't decide what kushikatsu to order, why not try the Set of 10 Kushikatsu (1,380 JPY (excl. tax))? This is a well-balanced plate of classic kushikatsu including meat, seafood, and vegetables.
Hugely Popular Billiken Goods Perfect as Souvenirs
The Billiken goods are popular items at the souvenir shop in Tsutenkaku Tower. Straps with a pair of gold and silver Billikens and magnets that holds luck in place are small, affordable items that make great souvenirs. There are many more items to choose from, such as Billiken-shaped castella (a type of sponge cake made with flour, egg, milk, and sugar) and T-shirts with cute images of Billiken.
Billiken answers a wide range of wishes and prayers. If you are traveling to Osaka, be sure to go to Tsutenkaku Tower in Shinsekai and pay your respects!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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