If you’ve ever visited Osaka, you may have had the opportunity to see the golden Billiken statue that prominently sits on its throne at the top of the Tsutenkaku Tower. The Billiken is a mythical idol that has become an iconic figure in Japan, as a god that provides good luck and good fortune when you rub its feet. Though it is basically the mascot of Osaka, funnily enough, the Billiken originally came from Kansas City, Missouri. An artist named Florence Pretz claimed that it appeared to her in a dream, and she drew it into existence in 1908. Never could Pretz have guessed that this would start a Billiken craze, which quickly reached the shores of Japan.
These statues can be found all over the Osaka area, as well as a few other locations around western Japan. Did you know however, that there is a lesser known Billiken statue that has a much longer history than Osaka’s golden Billiken? Just over an hour outside of Tokyo by train, sits a bright silver Billiken statue that day and night watches over the locally famous Tone Canal, in Nagareyama, Chiba. This Billiken statue was originally built back in 1913, and did not originally have the shiny silver top coat that it has today. So, what caused this upgrade? In 2018, the original Billiken statue was refurbished, and a new shrine was built around it. Not too long afterward however, tragedy struck. The Billiken statue was vandalized; part of it was smashed off, and its donation box was stolen. The statue had to be taken down to repair the damage, causing the Tone Canal to lose its guardian that had watched over it for over 100 years.
The story doesn’t end there however. When the Billiken Company in Osaka heard about this tragedy, they immediately took action. They sent a golden Billiken from Osaka to act as a “pinch hitter” in the city of Nagareyama’s time of need. For five years the bright gold statue guarded over the Tone Canal in its absence, until February 2022, when the new Billiken that was built to replace the old one was finally installed. This second-generation Billiken was painted silver, in honor of the golden Billiken of Osaka. The reasoning behind this was, “if there’s a golden Billiken that guards the West (Osaka), there should be a silver Billiken that guards the East.” The substitute golden Billiken officially passed its duties onto the second-generation silver Billiken (they had an official ceremony where the feet of the two statues were touched together like a high-five), and the new statue took its rightful place on the throne guarding the Tone Canal, where it still sits today.
The substitute golden Billiken that was gifted by the Billiken Company in Osaka still resides in the city of Nagareyama, on display at the Nagareyama Ootakanomori Tourist Guide Center, and has become a symbol of friendship between Nagareyama and Osaka. The original Billiken has also been repaired since the incident, and can be visited at the Nagareyama City Museum. It was with the help of the golden Billiken of Osaka, that Nagareyama was able to go from having zero statues to three. Surely, this isn’t the last we will see of this beautiful friendship between the golden Billiken of Osaka, and the silver Billiken of Nagareyama.