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If you seek the Argentine children's magazine, see: Billiken (magazine)
Wooden statue of Billiken enshrined in Tsutenkaku Tower

Billiken was a charm doll created by an American art teacher and illustrator, Ms. Florence Pretz of Kansas City, Missouri, who is said to have seen the mysterious figure in a dream. In 1908 she patented Billiken who was elf-like with pointed ears, a mischievous smile, and a tuft a hair on his pointed head. His arms were short and he was generally sitting with his legs stretched out in front of him. Billiken was auspiciously named after the newly elected President of the United States, William Howard Taft. (The manufacturer of the dolls, Horsman Dolls, Inc., had earlier enjoyed success with the Teddy bear: a toy named after the previous president, Theodore Roosevelt.) Billiken was one of the first copyrighted dolls and the first likenesses of Billiken, banks and statues, were produced in 1909. After a few brief years of popularity, like many other fad toys, Billiken faded into obscurity. Billiken should not be confused with baby-like Kewpie figures that debuted in the December 1909 Ladies' Home Journal.

Many current on-line articles about Billikens are based on an article by anthropologist Dorothy Jean Ray that first appeared in Alaska Sportsman in 1960, with an updated version in Alaska Journal in 1973.


[edit] Billiken, his life and times

Billiken sprang from the height of the "Mind Cure" craze in the United States at the start of the Twentieth Century. He represented the "no worry" ideal, and was a huge hit. Variations appeared, such as the "Teddy-Billiken Doll" and the Billycan/Billycant pair (to drive petty problems away). Billiken helped touch off the doll craze of the era.a 

In his heyday, Billiken enjoyed world-wide celebrity. In America he became the athletic mascot of Saint Louis University and the school's athletic teams remain the Billikens to this day. A junior version of the Billiken also became the mascot of Saint Louis University High School. In Japan Billiken was elevated to almost god-like status and became so popular that he was considered to be another god of luck in addition to the traditional seven Japanese gods of luck.

[edit] Billiken goes to Japan

Throughout Japan representations of Billiken were enshrined. Pre-World War II statues of Billiken can be found in Kobe city's Chinju Inari and Matsuo Inari shrines. Both of these statues were removed from display for many years at the onset of the war when foreign deities fell out of favor.

The most famous representation of Billiken was in an amusement park, Lunar Park, in the Shinsekai district of Osaka, Japan. In 1912, he was enshrined in the park as a symbol of Americana and there was revered as "The God of Things As They Ought to Be". Popular Billiken souvenirs in the park included dolls and manju (sweet buns filled with red paste). When the park closed in 1923, the wooden statue of Billiken went missing.

A replica of the statue was placed in the second-generation Tsutenkaku Tower in 1980. Presently he resides on the fifth floor observation deck and has become closely associated with the tower. Each year thousands of visitors place a coin in his donation box and rub the soles of his well-worn feet to make their wishes come true.

The statue was a permanent fixture in the tower until September 2005 when it made its first departure and was taken, as an ambassador of sorts, to Shibuya's Tokyu department store in Tokyo as a part of a fair to promote Naniwa (traditional Osaka) culture. As a part of the cultural exchange, a replica of the statue of Shibuya's most famous dog, Hachiko, was sent to Osaka.

Billiken was a star in Sakamoto Junji's 1996 comedy Billiken in which the statue is restored to the Tsutenkaku in an effort to revive the popularity of the tower and save Shinsekai. However, Billiken was not mentioned in the 1991 Ranma ½ movie dealing with the 7 Lucky Gods, Chûgoku Nekonron daikessen! Okite yaburi no gekitô hen

[edit] References

  1. Leach, William (1993). Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture. New York: Vintage Books, 230. 0-679-75411-3.

[edit] External links

Saint Louis Univeristy


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