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Prayers for pandemic's end popular at western Japan shrine dedicated to medicine god

A woman prays at the Sukunahikona Shrine, where a god of medicine is enshrined, in Osaka's Chuo Ward on March 20, 2020. (Mainichi/Naohiro Yamada)

OSAKA -- People are flocking to a shrine dedicated to a god of medicine in this western Japan city's Chuo Ward to pray for the end of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Sukunahikona Shrine, located in the Dosho-machi district where pharmaceutical companies both large and small have their offices, enshrines both a legendary Chinese emperor who administered medicine and a Japanese god of medicine. When cholera spread through Edo period Japan, it's thought that many people came to pray at the shrine, and that it gave those who did come medicine and paper-mache tigers as protective amulets.

From around mid-February, when the virus began spreading in Japan, the shrine has received a flood of inquiries about its amulets for good health, which feature an embroidered image of a tiger. Now the shrine gives out somewhere between 30 to 40 talismans a day; nearly 10 times more than before the pandemic.

Many wooden plaques to pray for the end of the pandemic are on display at the shrine. Kenichi Bessho, 47, the shrine's chief priest, said, "I see many messages from people praying not for themselves, but for others to live in peace. I hope the power of the gods will help us eliminate the pandemic."

(Japanese original by Naohiro Yamada, Osaka Photo Group)

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