A golden Buddha in Japan has attracted new — and unexpected — attention from rugby fanatics who are thronging to the statue to witness in person the hand gesture it shares with beloved World Cup hero Ayumu Goromaru.

The number of visitors to the religious-turned-sportsshrine in central Japan has soared five-fold as eager fans descend on the Dainichi Nyorai statue, which has clasped hands with upward pointing index fingers touching each other — just like Goromaru’s trademark pre-kick pose. 

“At weekends, more than 1,000 people pay homage a day,” the chief priest of Seki-Zenkoji temple, Shunkai Sato, told AFP on Tuesday.

Goromaru, 29, propelled Japan to shock victory over South Africa in September, scoring 24 points in what is described as the biggest upset in the history of the World Cup.

Goromaru assumes the pose when preparing for penalty and conversion kicks and it has come to be widely mimicked by children and rugby fans alike.

Sato said that he never expected the three-metre (nearly 10-foot) high statue, located in the Gifu prefecture, would come to be linked with the popular athlete.

Still, he welcomes the attention at the temple, the origins of which date to the late 18th century.

“I think it is a good thing because more people feel close to Buddhism and the Buddha here,” he said.

The Dainichi Nyorai Buddha is usually depicted holding its hands in a different way, Sato said.

“The style of the statue is very rare,” he said. “I have never seen it elsewhere.”

The figure at the Seki-Zenkoji temple originated in China, but details of its background remain unknown, Sato said. – Agence France-Presse

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