Out with demons, in with good luck at Japan’s Setsubun

I was rummaging through some of my non-digital photos this morning and found this one of my daughter participating in the Japanese festival Setsubun, which traditionally chases away dark winter and welcomes spring (according to the lunar calendar.)

It’s always held around February 3rd or 4th (I think it’s Feb 3 for 2009.)

The objective is to toss out the old, drive away evil and welcome good fortune.

Temples all around Japan hold ceremonies; we attended one when we lived in Sasebo, on the southern island of Kyushu.

Mame-maki, or the bean-throwing ritual, makes this event a real hit with the kids.  My daughter was a little surprised that the adults were encouraging her to throw things in the temple, but it didn’t take her long to get into the action.

The idea is to throw roasted soybeans at the evil spirits to chase them away – at the same time, you shout, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” or, “Out with the demons, in with good luck!”

Try yelling it in Japanese – there’s something about the melodic words that always makes me smile and feel a sense of triumph over evil things like my perfectionism, lists of things that aren’t done yet and my messy living room. Out with those demons – get your gomi (trash) to the curb!

During January, stores in Japan sell special red oni devil masks (wear one to represent evil, and you’ll get beaned!) and little fuku mame bean packets – I like how this writer reflects on her early Japan discoveries each year during Setsubun time.

After we tossed beans at the temple, there was a bonfire outside. You eat special soft mochi (sweet red bean) rice cakes and watch the previous year’s bad fortune go up in flames. There were special decorative wooden tags to buy; scribble a description of your personal frustrations on it, then toss it into the fire.  We bought a tag, but now we use it as a Christmas ornament.

BootsnAll’s own Roving Ronin Report blog has a post about Setsubun, and that’s where I found RoninDave’s video below (here’s the URL on YouTube if you can’t see the box.)