So we just finished celebrating ‘setsubun (節分)’, which is traditionally the day before the first day of a new season, mainly, in modern times, before Spring, by the lunar calendar, and falling on February 2nd or 3rd. That to me sounds a little optimistic for Spring, but that’s how it is.
Perhaps the most popular aspect of this is ‘mamemaki‘ (豆まき） is which is essentially the throwing of beans in homes, and at shrines and temples, to welcome good fortune and drive out evil spirits. In a home then, someone will throw beans both in and out of the house/apartment, saying “Fuku wa uchi, oni wa soto” (“Luke is inside, demons are outside”).
We did the version where someone wears a demon mask, and the family pelts them with beans until they leave the house; often this is the returning father, though we actually took turns, since wailing like a banshee and running around with a mask is quite attractive to kids! Interestingly, the Wikipedia article said this home event was not so common anymore, but it seems that most people I know with children do it, and there are plenty of simple masks and beans in the shops.
As usual, there are some variations, with many of them I suspect being regional. When I read it up in my “Dictionary of Japanese Culture” book, by Setsuko Kojima and Gene A. Crane, it also mentioned some homes would hang some Japanese holly, and a sardine head on their doors to keep bad spirits out. I haven’t seen that myself to be honest, but now I’ve read it, I’ll be keeping a closer eye out. Some other people also eat beans to the number of their age, plus one, to guarantee health and luck this year, and this eating of beans largely comes from the Kansai region and the west of Japan.
In all then, it’s a fun event, a reflects the country’s agricultural, religious and historical connections, and is perhaps one of the lesser known festivals outside Japan.
I think I’ll be cleaning up dried beans for a few days to come though.