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Hagoita Market


Many are decorated with traditional figures. (Tokyo Metropolitan Government)

One traditional New Year pastime in Japan is hanetsuki, a badminton-like game played by girls with wooden paddles and a shuttlecock. In olden times, the person who missed had a mark drawn on her face with black ink, and they played until one player's face was completely smeared in ink.

Hagoita is the wooden paddle used in this game, and it's usually decorated with beautiful drawings. Even though kids don't play this game much any more, the paddle itself is valued as an ornament that is believed to bring good luck.

A hagoita market is held from December 17 to 19 every year on the grounds of the temple Senso-ji in Asakusa, Tokyo. It's a spectacular event attracting some 300,000 people, who come to buy paddles from the approximately 50 stalls selling nothing but hagoita. The holding of this market is one of the telling signs that the end of the year is near at hand.

The market began around 350 years ago during the Edo period (1603-1867). The drawings are usually created with washi (Japanese hand-molded paper) or cloth, and then pasted onto the paddle so they protrude like a relief. Traditional hagoita commonly feature portraits of famous kabuki actors and depictions of a ship loaded with treasures. Recently, though, there have been portraits of movie and television stars and famous athletes.

The ornamental paddles can be as long as 180 centimeters (nearly 6 feet) or as short as 18 centimeters (7 inches), and the price ranges from 1,000 yen to hundreds of thousands of yen. The most popular hagoita measure around 60 centimeters (2 feet) and cost 60,000 yen.