Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bullfinches in Japan - "Uso-kae"

From Dr. Robert DeCandido - a local ornithologist - via an acquaintance in Japan:

The bullfinch is called "uso" in Japanese. This is homonymous with the word for lie in this language.

In January some shinto shrines in Japan hold a ceremony called "uso-kae" which means change of lies or exchange of bullfinches. In this ceremony people exchange wooden bullfinch figures. By exchanging bullfinches it is believed that bad luck generated by lies that you have intentionally or unintentionally told in your life is changed into good luck supported by truth of "Tenjin" god of the shrine. Thus you are assured to be able to live a lucky life in the new year being rid of bad luck of the past.

The wooden bullfinch figure used in the ceremony is not a modern realistic sculpture but a work of traditional folk art. Foreigners may find the figure a good souvenir for bird-loving friends back home.

Thanks to a net surfing friend I can provide you below with addresses of web sites where you can find some photographic images of bullfinch figures. You will notice that there are a marked geographical variation among these birds. Sub-specific difference? I do not know.

Yushima-tenjin shrine in Bunkyo ward, Tokyo

Dazaifu-temmangu shrine in Fukuoka Prefecture

Kameido-tenjin in Koto ward, Tokyo

Kitano-temmangu in Fukuoka Prefecture

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