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Sunday, February 03, 2013

Japan: Setsubun

Beans & mini demon mask
Setsubun (節分) is a Japanese festival celebrated on February 3, the day before the first day of spring. The name literally means Bean-throwing Ceremony and is used to drive out the bad luck and evil spirits in one's home and invite good luck in. The ceremony was introduced to Japan by China in the 8th century.

"Demon out! Luck in!"
The actual ceremony is very simple. A family member, usually the father or husband, wears a mask of an oni, which means demon. Other family members then throw soybeans at him, while yelling "Demon out, luck in!" Then everyone eats one bean for each year of their life; in other areas of Japan they eat their age in beans plus one for luck. The soybeans are symbolic of cleaning the house of evil spirits and bad luck. Now days, peanuts are often used. Some soybeans have been coated with a sweet crunchy coating. The beans can be purchased at grocery stores or at Buddhist temples.
Sweet soybeans

Setsubun is celebrated at Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines all over the country. Priests and invited guests, which sometimes includes famous celebrities and sumo wrestlers, throw beans and other items at the crowd. These can include envelopes with money, candy, sweets, and other prizes.

A special food called eho-maki is eaten on this day. The custom started in the Osaka region but is gaining popularity. Eho-maki is a long uncut sushi roll. And you can't eat this in a normal fashion: it must be eaten in silence facing the direction that is considered lucky for that year. The direction is determined by the Chinese zodiac symbol for that year. 2013 is the year of the snake and the lucky direction is south-southeast.

Since it is only my wife and I, it's me that gets to wear the oni mask. Yoko throws beans and yells at me. I have to admit, it's fun. I get back at her because she has to eat more beans than I do.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like fun! My daughter spent a month in Japan last year - she rented an apartment and all. It was her first time on her own and she loved it there. When she goes back, (she wants to teach English) I'm pretty sure she'll stay.