Shinto, or the way of the gods, is an indigenous religion in Japan. It is practiced by nearly 83% of the whole Japanese populace. Shinto is a religion of great respect for nature and sacred sites. Most aspects of worship are associated with a deity or kami usually represented by a statue.
The Shinsekai (新世界) district, literally meaning New World, is a quaint old Japanese neighborhood situated south of Osaka’s Minami area. The Shinsekai’s southern area was modeled after New York, and the northern area was similar to Paris. Shinsekai is famous for Luna Park, an old amusement park open from 1912 to 1923. The park enshrined a Japanese god, Billiken, who became the most famous representation at the time. Billiken was a symbol of Americana and was worshipped as “The God of Things As They Ought to Be.” The original wooden Billiken statue disappeared when the park closed in 1923.
A large Billiken replica.| MShades
A second statue was made and placed in 1980, at Tsūtenkaku (通天閣, lit. “Tower Reaching Heaven”), owned by Tsūtenkaku Kanko Co., Ltd. It’s a popular landmark in Shinsekai, with an observation deck as high as 91 meters. The Billiken statue, on the 5th floor observation deck, attracts thousands of people who offer coins in the donation box and rub the soles of the statue’s feet for luck. The statue’s feet were so worn out by the droves of visitors that it had to be replaced in May 2012.
Billiken statue at Tsūtenkaku Tower. | MShades
Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the Billiken is that it did not originate from Japan. In fact, Billiken was a charm doll created by an American teacher and illustrator, Florence Pretz from St. Louis, Missouri. She claimed to have envisioned Billiken in a mysterious dream. In 1908, she was able to get a design patent for the Billiken design. The Billiken is said to give the bearer good luck and the giver, even better luck. It made its debut in Japan in 1908.
St. Louis University Billiken mascot in Madrid. | SLU Madrid Campus
A hundred years after its introduction to Japan, in October 2008, the Billiken of Tsūtenkaku was brought all the way to its founding city where students of St. Louis University High School came to admire the actual representation of their own mascot who is also Billiken.