Since the days of the Meiwa Era, Asakusa’s Senso-ji temple in downtown Tokyo has hosted “Hozuki Ichi” (Ground Cherry Lantern Festival), in the blistering heat of mid-July. According to legend, a young samurai’s apprentice dreamed that the Japanese horse-riding, goblin-slaying, deity of fire, Atago Gongen, revealed to him the medicinal powers of a Houzuki pod (ground cherry plant pod resembling a Chinese paper lantern). The next morning, while cleaning the garden of Shiba-Seishoji Temple he found such a ground cherry plant pod and recalled the dream from the night before. He proclaimed that if one were to eat an unripe ground cherry at Atago Shrine on June 24, the festival day for the Buddhist deity Jizo, they could be cured of any ailments and their children would be cured of distemper. Taking the young Samurai apprentice’s advice, many people promptly tried this on June 24, discovering that it was mysteriously effective, alleviating the fever and discomfort experienced by pregnant women, and thus began calling it a wonder medicine. This was the beginning of the Hozuki-ichi Festival that has continued for over 200 years.
Accordingly, the Atago festival has become quite popular and over the decades, many temples have also adopted their own Hozuki Ichi festivals. The festival in Asakusa at Sensoji has since become larger and more popular than the one in Atago. On July 9th and 10th, the latter of which is also Yonman-rokusennichi (Day of 46,000 Blessings), over 450 vendors arrive to sell Houzuki lantern plants while another 350 come to peddle typical festival fare. Visitors nowadays come in their summer yukata, to buy a Houzuki plant, also said to ward off evil spirits and goblins from their home. Glass furin wind chimes ring across the festival grounds, aiding the laid back attitude, which despite the humidity, makes it one of Tokyo’s more pleasant and peculiar summertime celebrations.