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Home » 5. Rites and Festivals » Individual Shrine Observances
Usokae shinji
Bullfinch-exchanging rite. A rite held during the night of January seventh at the shrine Dazaifutenmangū in Dazaifu City, Fukuoka prefecture. Bullfinches (uso) made of wood are used as charms against fire. People take their bullfinches that are covered with the preceding year's grime to the Tenman shrine, and everyone exchanges bullfinches with anyone else freely, saying "kaemashō, kaemashō " ("Let's trade, let's trade"). During this excitement the shinshoku (shrine priests) lose themselves among the crowd of worshippers and walk about surreptitiously passing out the shrine's twelve bullfinches. Those who get one of the gold bullfinches are said to receive good fortune for the year. The festival called onisube, famous for protection from fire, is observed after the bullfinch festival. Two groups of nearly one hundred people each are divided into the "demon guards" and the "smoke handlers." The latter light a huge mound of fresh pine piled up outside of the shrine hall with sacred fire (or by rubbing two sticks together), and fan the smoke into the shrine with an enormous fan. On the inside the demon guards beat the slat board walls with wooden mallets. Then, drawn by torches, the smoke-covered demons try to go around the shrine, but the shrine priests throw parched beans at them. People strike the demon masks that the performers wear with staffs called utsue. After going around the outside and inside of the shrine through the smoke and ash the demons come to a stop.
       The usokae shinji at the shrine Kamadotenjinsha in Kōtō-ku, Tokyo is said to have been brought from Dazaifutenmangū.
       On January fifth there is an usokae matsuri also at the shrine Meihamatenmangū in Fukuoka City, Fukuoka prefecture. Similar to the bullfinch rites is the hatokaeshi shinji (dove-exchanging rite) at the shrine Usajingu in Usa City, Ōita prefecture. There is a tamakaeshi matsuri (gem-exchanging festival) on January twenty-first in which tama gems are traded at Miyajidake Jinja, Munakata-gun, Fukuoka prefecture. In addition, there are festivals such as the okinjokaeshi matsuri in Hinagu, Ashikita-gun, Kumamoto prefecture, in which dolls are traded, and the hanakae matsuri (flower-exchanging festival) at the shrine Kanezakigū in Tsuruga City, Fukui prefecture.

— Mogi Sakae
The Usokae shinji performed on the 24th and 25th of January at Kameido tenjinja. An offering of a bullfinche that has the pollution of the previous year is made and a brand new sparrow is purchased.

Tokyo, 2008

©Ōsawa Kōji

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