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Japan is situated in northeastern Asia between the North Pacific and the Sea of Japan. The area of Japan is 377,873 square kilometers, nearly equivalent to Germany and Switzerland combined or slightly smaller than California. Japan consists of four major islands, surrounded by more than 4,000 smaller islands.

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Usokae(Bullfinch Exchange)

A year of happiness secured by a golden bird.
A wooden bird bringing good luck by turning last year's lies into this year's truths.

Date: January 7th
Place: Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine
City: Saifu, Dazaifu City, Fukuoka Prefecture

This is an event held at the shrine dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane (845-903) who is familiarly called Tenjin-sama. Dazaifu Tenmangu is the shrine which was constructed at the very spot where Michizane died. People receive wooden dolls carved in the shape of uso (bullfinch), known as a lucky bird, and pray for good fortune. The bullfinch is believed to be Tenjin-sama's messenger. These dolls are also sold at Yushima Tenjin Shrine and Kameido Tenjin Shrine in Tokyo, where long queues form to buy them.

Sugawara no Michizane was a scholar, poet and politician of the Heian Period, and is worshipped as a god of learning in Japan. He was an honest man, never telling lies and some say that the origin of usokae comes from the Japanese word uso meaning "lies," which also corresponds with the name of this bird. Everyone tells lies, whether they intend to or not, and in order to exchange "lies" told in the previous year for "truths," people bring their old wooden uso dolls to be exchanged for new ones.

The people gathering at the shrine greet one another with the words "Come! Let's exchange!," and exchange the wooden bullfinch dolls they are holding. What they are really looking for among the numerous bullfinch dolls is the golden bullfinch. Anyone who is lucky to get this golden bullfinch is considered to have a happy year ahead.

As this event coincides with the entrance exam season, an increasing number of students about to sit for their exams has been visiting the shrine in recent years to buy these dolls and make their dream of passing their exams come true.

On the same evening, a fire festival to drive away evil spirits, one of the three largest fire festivals of Japan, is held at the Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine. The precincts of the shrine become enveloped in flames and smoke, making it a spectacular sight well worth seeing.


5 minutes' walk from Nishitetsu-Dazaifu Station.Nishitetsu-Dazaifu on the Nishitetsu Line. Change at Nishitetsu-Fukuoka Station, also known as Tenjin Station, which is on the metro from JR Hakata Station


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Festivals & Events

Traditional Annual Events

Traditional Annual Events