Bulls and Cows have been a part of farming cultures ever since the inception of human civilization. Japan was a predominantly agrarian society in history and farming is, of course, still practiced in rural areas. Let’s take a look at the bull festival that happens every year in Japan during Setsubun on February 3rd.
Hofu Tenmangu is a Shinto shrine in Hofu of Yamaguchi prefecture. Its main deity is ‘Tenjin’, the god of learning. Tenjin is an enshrined form of Sugawara no Michizane, a scholar and poet, who lived between 845 A.D. and 903 A.D. in the Heian period. He was an expert in Chinese Poetry and acted as an ambassador and politician too. Due to his services, he was deified as ‘Tenman-Tenjin’ and is still revered today. Hofu Tenmangu is one among the three great Tenjin shrines in Japan; other two are Dazaifu Tenmangu in Fukuoka and Kitano Tenmangu in Kyoto.
Ushikae Shinji is the festival of bulls and cows held at all Tenmangu shrines in Japan during Setsubun. It is celebrated by agriculturists and local business people. On this day, a huge lottery is conducted with local businesses acting as sponsors and visitors trying their luck. The winners of the lottery are announced quite dramatically with priests and business people unveiling them amidst hundreds of people. Unlike other lotteries, the winners here actually get cow-related prizes such as cow figurines made of gold, silver and copper. The top prize would be a live bull that the winner has to take care of until the autumn. It is a way to emphasize the importance of cattle and agriculture.
Some sponsors even advertise cars and electronic goods as prizes in the lottery. Visitors also celebrate Setsubun by tossing beans into the air as a form of good luck. It is a fun event with many other attractions such as shops, food stalls, cosplays and so on.
Welcome spring the Japanese way at the Hofu Tenmangu shrine and test your luck in the lottery! See if you may take a golden bull or a live bull back home.
Hofu Tenmangu Website (Japanese only)