• Kyodo


A 22-year-old firefighter raced past the competition early Thursday to earn the title of “Lucky Man” in the annual run held at a major Shinto shrine in Hyogo Prefecture.

As soon as the gates of Nishinomiya Shrine swung open at 6 a.m., Yuki Yamamoto from Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture, dashed ahead of the pack to the main hall some 230 meters away, beating the 107 other lottery-selected competitors in the first group to race. Altogether, some 5,000 people took part in the traditional event.

“I’m very happy,” declared Yamamoto, who said the win made him look back with regret on an high school pole-vault championship that he missed due to injuries.

With his hometown having been affected by the torrential rain last summer that caused massive floods and mudslides, Yamamoto said he hopes the win “can brighten people up, even just a little bit.”

The shrine in Nishinomiya, dedicated to the Ebisu god of business prosperity, has been holding the race for centuries and anoints the first three runners to arrive at the main hall as the “Lucky Men” of the year.

Yuki Itami, a 30-year-old local comedian, was second, and 23-year-old Katsuya Tamaki, from Kakogawa, also in Hyogo, placed third.

For the first time, a woman was included on the team of gatekeepers who are responsible for holding the gates shut until the start of the race.

Miyuki Abe, 36, from Iwate Prefecture, assumed the role along with several other men. Abe has twice won the title of “Lucky Woman” in a separate footrace held as part of a tsunami evacuation drill in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture.

“I want to bring home the power of ‘Lucky Man’ to the Tohoku region,” Abe said.

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