Setsubun - The Japanese Bean Festival
In Japan, "Out with Devils! Come in Luck!" is shouted every year in February while throwing dry beans at a "devil". Why does this happen?
At the beginning of February there is a Buddhist festival to commemorate the change from winter to spring according to the Chinese calendar. Setsubun literally means 'end of the long winter'.
The modern Setsubun
In the evening, a family member, usually the father, puts on a demon mask and runs through the rooms of the house. The other family members run after him and scatter roasted soybeans to drive away the evil spirits and to invite good luck by saying "Oni wa soto. Fuku wa uchi!" which means "Out with the devils. In with luck!". It is hoped that misfortunes will disperse and good fortune will be attracted to the house.
Family members also eat the same number of beans as their age for luck and good health over the next year. The beans are roasted azuki beans and are relatively tasteless but quite hard.
Local shrines and temples celebrate the occasion with a similar 'mamemaki' or bean throwing ceremony but throw lollies and coins into the crowd as well as beans. Many temples have famous actors, sumo wrestlers and other well-known people who are asked to be 'toshi-otoko' (year man) or 'toshi-onna' (year woman). The chosen person dresses in colourful traditional costumes and scatters beans over the crowds. The person chosen was often born in the same animal year as the current year and it is considered quite an honour to be asked.
The traditional Setsubun
The first day of spring used to be celebrated as the beginning of the New Year, hence the emphasis on cleaning everything and starting afresh. With the moving into the new calendar, New Year changed and became January the 1st leaving the Setsubun festival as one of purification. The bean throwing aspect is believed to have come from ancient China where beans were used to get rid of evil in exorcism ceremonies. This practice followed Buddhism into Japan and is now a central part of the Setsubun experience.
While the mamemaki tradition is one that has continued for many generations, in earlier times, families also hung holly leaves with sardine's heads from the eaves of their houses to stop evil spirits from entering. The spirits they were trying to get rid of and prevent were things like disease and poverty. While this can still sometimes be seen in rural areas, it is no longer common practice.
The evil spirited Oni
The bad luck and misfortune that people try to frighten away at Setsubun is called 'Oni' or devil. This Japanese goblin is always portrayed with horns and fangs and a big spiked club. As well as appearing in festivals, he is also common in folk tales and in theatre.