• Beniko

25. Fukudama, Lucky Balls Made of Rice Cake Shell

As the year end approaches, Fukudama (福玉, lucky balls in pink and white which contain some pieces of New Year's gifts inside), appear at the entrance of stores in the Gion (祇園) district.

When I was a Maiko (舞妓), I used to receive many Fukudama from Okasan (お母さん, female owner of tea house) as Otoshidama (お年玉, New Year's gift) at the year end. I was so delighted going back to Yakata (屋形, Maiko house) with two or three Fukudama in my hand, and tried very hard not to open the shell until the New Year's day. Some of my colleague Maiko were curious enough to open their Fukudama as soon as the first Joya no Kane (除夜の鐘, the New Year's bells) was tolled, however, I was able to wait until the morning.

Inside Fukudama, something small, such as ceramic figures of zodiac animals, tiny hand mirrors, miniature furniture, or instruments such as Shamisen (三味線, Japanese 3 strings guitar), are usually packed. They say you'll be good at music if you got a miniature Shamisen, and you'll have a rich wardrobe if you got a miniature chest. When I found a set of Shichifukujin (七福神, Seven Gods of Good Fortune) dolls in my Fukudama, my mother jumped for joy and displayed them at the entrance hall of our house.

The interesting part of Fukudama is its shell made of dried rice cake. It's edible so that we often put the pieces of the shell in Oshiruko (お汁粉, sweet red-bean soup) as substitute for regular Mochi (餅, rice cake). Also, some people make Monaka (最中, bean‐jam‐filled wafers) using pieces of the shell with Anko (餡こ, sweet red bean paste) in-between.

After I resigned Maiko and became the mother of my children, I kept purchasing Fukudama every year for them. Now that they are all grown ups, sometimes I reminisce the delighted faces of my beloved children.

Fukudama is indeed a symbol of December in Kyoto, along with Maneki (まねき, a gigantic sign board above the entrance of Minamiza theater) of Kaomise (顔見世, "Face-showing" ceremony of the Minamiza theater in December).

Thank you very much for reading my blog throughout this year. Happy New Year! Okotou san dosu (おことうさんどす, It's getting busier and busier everyday, so please take care)!