Posted by: Didapper PJ29 JAN 2009
As everyone knows, next Monday, 2 February, will be celebrated by Christians as Candlemas Day, by Celtic pagans (if any are still around) as Imbolc and by North Americans as Groundhog Day.
But what everyone may not know is that the following day, Tuesday 3 February, is Setsubun — the ancient Japanese Bean-Throwing Festival. Oh yes, it is.
Setsubun celebrates the end of winter and the beginning of what used to be the Japanese New Year (until 1872, when Japan decided to change from a Chinese-style lunar calendar to the solar calendar that we all know and love).
“Setsu” means “season” and “bun” means “division”. In other words, Setsubun is the day dividing the old year from the new.
The festival of Setsubun is based around the idea that you can rid a place of lurking evil spirits by practising “mame-maki”, which involves throwing “fuku-mame” at the little devils, or oni, and shouting “Fuku-wa-uchi, Oni-wa-soto!”
You will no doubt be relieved to learn that “fuku-mame” means “fortune beans” and that “Fuku-wa-uchi, Oni-wa-soto!” means “Fortune in, devils out!”
Anyway, some people mark Setsubun by dressing up in grotesque colourful masks. Then they proceed to embarrass their teenage children by prancing about a bit in a vaguely demon-like sort of way before getting chased off by a fusillade of fuku-mame, which usually takes the form of roasted soy beans.
Eating the fuku-mame is also part of the Setsubun tradition, though whether you scrape up the chucked beans from the floor or stick to pristine unflung beans I would not like to guess.
Incidentally, another ancient Setsubun custom, surviving only in rural areas, is to eat grilled sardines and stick the heads on sticks outside your front door to frighten away any demons trying to enter.
All together now: “Fuku-wa-uchi, Oni-wa-soto!”