With a year of good fortune on the line, ‘Lucky Man Run’ draws thousands

Reuters, Kyodo

Thousands of men and women raced through the grounds of a Shinto shrine in Hyogo Prefecture early Tuesday in the annual “Lucky Man Run,” which some believe bestows a year’s worth of good fortune on the winner.

Harking back to a tradition started in the 14th century, when locals hurried to Nishinomiya Shrine on this day to offer prayers for prosperity, the race’s victor is recognized by priests as the year’s “lucky” man or woman.

Takashi Suzuki, 21, a university student from Tokyo, was the recipient of the promise of favorable fortune for 2017 when he won the 230-meter dash through the shrine’s courtyard, boosted by gaining a position close to the giant red doors of the shrine compound in a lottery draw.

“I hope to spread good fortune to make this a year of no disasters,” said the native of disaster-hit Iwate Prefecture. This was the first time Suzuki took part in the annual race.

Suzuki and two Hyogo locals who took second and third place — Ryo Watanabe, a 24-year-old firefighter and Haruyuki Ono, a 16-year-old high school student — were blessed by a priest in a Shinto ritual and presented with a barrel of sake, which they promptly cracked open to share with the crowd.

Suzuki, who was in the third year of junior high school when his residence in Ofunato was inundated by the 2011 tsunami, recently visited the location of his previous home where the grass has become completely overgrown.

“I would like it to be restored as it was,” he said.

He emerged from the center of the lead group and held the top spot until the finish. “My dream is to be a pilot. I want to make this a good year,” said Suzuki, who will begin his job search soon.

About 5,000 people took part in the frenzied sprint this year, according to organizers. The famed shrine is dedicated to the business god Ebessan.