Setsubun--DEMONS OUT!

It's time to add one more thing to the list of interesting traditions of Japan....Setsubun! This is a festival held on the day before the beginning of spring, February 3rd. Setsubun has some special rituals intended to cleanse away all the evil of the previous year and also drive away evil spirits and diseases for the year to come. One of these rituals is called mamemaki, a bean-throwing ceremony. If you go to a temple for this event, temple staff throw the roasted soybeans and yell “Demons out-Luck in” while spectators try to catch them. The beans symbolically purify the home and get the ‘Demons out’. In order to bring the ‘Luck In’, you need to catch enough beans so that you can eat one bean for each year of your life plus one for the up coming year.

Apparently some shrines also throw out other gifts besides just beans. I heard that the crowds at those locations can get a little rough. I was at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa where they were only tossing beans, and that crowd was chaotic enough for me. If you’ve even been at a sports event or concert and witnessed people trying to snag a t-shirt, then you know how crazy people act when they’re trying to catch free stuff! Now multiply that by like 10 and you can imagine the number of elbows flying while people were frantically reaching for bags of beans mid air. I mean, these people must really need to get some evil out!

Another custom of the day is to eat a special type of sushi roll called Futomaki. It is a fat roll, usually 2-2.5 inches in diameter. For Setsubun the roll is usually uncut so it is in a long cylindrical shape. Apparently you are supposed to stand and face the “lucky direction” while you eat it, but I didn’t know which way that was so I just ate it all while very slowly spinning. (I'm hoping that counts for something.)

Another ceremony I attended this day was the burning of the Dharma Dolls. These dolls are sold without eyes painted on them and after you buy one, you make a goal or wish. After you make your wish, you paint on one of the eyes. Once the wish comes true or your goal is met, you paint on the other eye. That means that in between making your wish and it coming true, you are reminded of your unfulfilled goal or wish whenever you see the doll with just one eye. So to me, it sounds like it is supposed to either makes you feel guilty or like a failure…..great either way. I mean, who doesn’t want to be constantly reminded of our unrealized aspirations! At the end of the year you can return the doll from the previous year to the shrine and they burn them all. I guess ideally they would all have their eyes, but there were so many I couldn’t tell. Then you buy a new one and start all over.

I bought one and made a wish on it. Now it has one eye. But instead of feeling bad about it lacking the other eye, I think I’m going to imagine that it is winking at me all the time and saying “hey girl ;) keep up the good work towards that wish.” That seems so much more supportive and less depressing.