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Kobe shrine with name similar to figure skating star Hanyu crowded with fans

Wooden votive tablets bearing messages hoping figure skating star Yuzuru Hanyu will win the gold medal at Pyeongchang Olympics are seen at Yuzuruha Shrine in Kobe's Higashinada Ward on Feb. 14, 2018. (Mainichi)

KOBE -- Fans of figure skating star Yuzuru Hanyu have been flocking to the similarly named Yuzuruha Shrine here to declare their support for him as he eyes Olympic gold while recovering from an injury.

More than 1,000 "ema," or wooden votive tablets, on which fans have written messages for the 23-year-old skater, are displayed at the shrine in Kobe's Higashinada Ward. Masayasu Sawada, the 64-year-old chief priest of the shrine, said with a smile, "Fans of Hanyu come to the shrine every day."

According to Sawada, Hanyu has frequently visited the shrine since 2010. After he won the gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Games, fans flocked to the shrine. These days, fans also come from China, Taiwan, South Korea and other places overseas. When Hanyu last visited in June 2017, he wrote on a votive tablet, "I hope to do my best at the games." With a smile of embarrassment, he acknowledged the many tablets fans had written for him.

Nearly half of the approximately 2,500 votive tables dedicated at the shrine since last November bear messages expressing hope that Hanyu will recover from his injury and win gold at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Hanyu will compete in the short program on Feb. 16, aiming to win back-to-back Olympic golds in the men's figure skating for the first time since 1952.

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