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Arashi fans flock to shrines after pop group announces activity suspension

A message hoping to secure a ticket for a concert by Japanese pop group Arashi and wishing for their successful completion of their tour is seen on an "ema" tablet dedicated to Sakurai Shrine in the city of Itoshima, Fukuoka Prefecture, in southern Japan, on Jan. 31, 2019. (Mainichi/Tadashi Sano)
Members of the Japanese pop band Arashi, from left, Masaki Aiba, Jun Matsumoto, Satoshi Ono, Sho Sakurai and Kazunari Ninomiya attend a press conference in Tokyo's Minato Ward, on Jan. 27, 2019. (Mainichi/Naoaki Hasegawa)

ITOSHIMA, Fukuoka -- Fans of the popular pop group Arashi are making "pilgrimages" to three Shinto shrines in this part of southern Japan to pay tribute to the five-man band following their announcement on Jan. 27 that they would suspend their activities at the end of 2020.

The shrines are popular among Arashi fans because their names include parts of group members' monikers. The "Arashi shrines," as the fans call them, are Sakurai and Uruu shrines in the city of Itoshima, Fukuoka Prefecture, and Ninomiya Shrine in the Nishi Ward of the city of Fukuoka, the prefectural capital.

Sakurai and Ninomiya are the family names of Sho Sakurai, 37, and Kazunari Ninomiya, 35, respectively. The Chinese character for Uruu is that of the given name of Jun Matsumoto, 35. The precincts are within 20 minutes' drive by car and can be visited in a single sweep.

Many "ema" pictorial tablets with messages from well-wishing fans for Arashi are dedicated to Sakurai Shrine. "I hope the five members can reach their goal with smiles," reads one message left by a fan.

Historically, the religious site is associated with the Kuroda feudal family that reigned over Fukuoka, and its main hall and Sakura-mon gate are designated as prefectural cultural properties.

A mother-and-daughter fan duo from the city of Fukuoka was in the precinct. The 50-year-old homemaker with the 12-year-old first-year junior high school student says, "I feel sad but I hope they can take a good rest. I would like to support the five guys till the end."

According to Minoru Toyama, the 72-year-old chief priest of the shrine, the relationship between Sakurai Shrine and Arashi is not only in name. Legend has it that the shrine was established after the appearance of a holy spirit from a divine cave that opened up after a thunderstorm, or arashi in Japanese, in 1610. "I guess it can be called a linkage," said a smiling Toyama. "I'm happy to see young people coming all the way to the shrine."

(Japanese original by Tadashi Sano, Kyushu News Department)

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