Japanese "poverty god" beats economic woes, stress

TOKYO Thu Feb 26, 2009 9:54am EST

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TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Lost your job and looking for someone to punch up for causing the global financial crisis? A Japanese shrine offers down-on-their-luck visitors a chance to shake off the doldrums by hitting the "God of Poverty."

The Bimbo Gami shrine is home to a wooden statue believed to be the poverty deity, a thin and filthy man who brings misfortune and impoverishment to the house it haunts.

Visitors who travel to the shrine in mountains about four hour's drive from Tokyo can beat, kick and throw dried beans at the god to vent their anger.

"What you do here is hit it hard and defeat poverty in your heart, then stay positive by having a deep conviction that there will be good things," said 77-yer-old shrine master Tessen Sakura, a former banker who founded the shrine 11 years ago.

At most shrines, worshippers pay their respect to the god. But at Bimbo Gami, visitors must hit the statue three times with a bat, kick it another three times, and then throw beans at a target to drive away negative spirits and bad luck.

With Japan's economy in recession on the back of the global crisis, and many people finding themselves unemployed, thousands have visited the shrine in recent months.

Some days, as many as 500 people come to batter the god, with several visitors saying this has helped diminish their anger at the dire economic situation.

"I feel like I've been able to get rid of the rancor of the past 50, 60 years," said 77-year-old Toshitami Ota, who came from a neighboring province with a busload of visitors.

"Japan's overall economy is bad, but the stress you feel is a personal one. Of course, you think about the whole picture, but there are also a lot of things to worry about yourself," added Yoko Takeda, 52-year-old elderly care worker.

Although the shrine master and his wife Haruko, 68, had been involved in several failed several business projects before founding the shrine, the god of poverty seems to have proven lucky for the elderly couple.

They now live off a fairly stable income generated from selling good luck charms to visitors.

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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