Tokyo Shrine Prepares for Bullfinch Figurine Rite

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Paint is applied to wooden depictions of Eurasian bullfinches at Kameido Tenjin shrine in Koto Ward, Tokyo, in early January.

Staff at a Tokyo shrine are busy preparing wooden figurines of Eurasian bullfinches ahead of its annual bullfinch-exchange rite on Jan. 24 and 25.

The Japanese name for the Eurasian bullfinch is “uso,” a homonym for falsehood. During the rite at Kameido Tenjin shrine in Koto Ward, people bring along statuettes they bought the previous year, devote them to the shrine and exchange them for new versions. By doing so, it is believed that bad things can be turned into “lies” and exchanged for good fortune.

To create the figurines, priests and other shrine staff paint likenesses of the small bird carved from cypress wood. This year, the shrine plans to prepare 30,000 birds in 11 different sizes. “While finishing off the statuettes, we’re wishing for the coronavirus pandemic to end soon and for this to be a good year,” said the shrine’s chief priest.