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Friday, Jan. 6, 2012

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Fire festival: Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine welcomes in 2012 with their annual bullfinch exchange and a fire festival. DAZAIFU TENMANGU

Shrine festival goes to the birds

Staff writer

Hoping to start 2012 off on the right foot, Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine is holding their annual usokae (bullfinch exchange) festival, to spread good fortune to everyone.

People gather to purchase wood-carved kiuso (bullfinch songbird) dolls of good fortune and begin trading their birds with others in search of a golden variation of the item handed out by priests.

Those lucky enough to come across the sought-after bird are considered to be blessed with good fortune throughout the year, making it an ideal event for stressed-out students hoping for good luck with their entrance exams;. The reason for the use of the songbird is because many believe that the animal was associated with the great poet Sugawara no Michizane (845-903), whose grave the shrine is built upon.

Afterward, the shrine will hold one of the three largest onisube (fire festivals) in Japan, which is intended to ward off evil spirits and welcome good ones to help usher in the year.

The usokae and onisube take place at Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine in Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Jan. 7 (7 p.m.). The shrine is a five-minute walk from Nishitetsu-Dazaiku Station on the Nishitetsu Line. Admission is free. For information, visit www.dazaifutenmangu.or.jp/sanpai/saiten/special/onisube.

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