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Setsubun: catching beans for good luck at Kitain Temple | KAWAGOE

February 3rd is Setsubun in Japan, which marks the end of winter. People celebrate annually with traditional ceremonies in both homes and temples. A common tradition associated with this ancient festival is mamemaki or bean throwing. A lot of families carry out this fun tradition at home, but you can also visit a temple to do it with a crowd. Today, we did both.

When you carry out setsubun at home, the aim is to chase the ONI (ogres) away. It sounds like a metaphor for exorcism, but it is just a ritual to rid the house of evil and allow luck in for the coming year.  The oni represent evil and bad luck. We shout “Demons out, luck in” as we throw beans at an ogre, which is often the head of the household dressed up in traditional garb!  Most preschools and children community centers also mark the day with some fun crafts and activities.  I’ve previously written about our experiences of chasing the demon away while celebrating Setsubun at home.

When celebrated at a temple,  temple staff and honoured guests throw beans into the crowds from a dais.  It is not unusual for the temples to also throw things other than beans. In some places they throw fortunes or amulets or money or a combination of these. Tokyo has some temples that are famous for sumo wrestlers and / or celebrities throwing money to the excited crowds. Most temples conduct rituals before the bean throwing ceremony.  Some temples also have a performance by Oni, Japanese ogres or demons. The oni in Japan usually have one or two horns and wear animal print shorts. They are most often depicted as being red, but the most famous setsubun festival in Kazo, Saitama has 3 oni; one red, one blue and one black. There are many temples that conduct setsubun and mamemaki ceremonies throughout Saitama. We went to one of the biggest; Kitain Temple in Kawagoe. This year was the kids first to participate in a ceremony of this type. They were dubious at first, but they quickly joined in on the commotion and were thrilled with their haul. They recounted the affair to their grandparents with great animation and excitement.

The video shows the dais. You can hear the emcee chanting. The last thing he says is "Fuku ha uchi" which invites luck and signifies the start of the bean throwing. I turned off the camera so I would have a chance to catch some of the goodies. :-)

One of the reasons I didn’t bring them to such a ceremony up until now was because I was worried that the crowds would be intimidating, even dangerous. However, I found today that people were quite careful of children for the most part, plus they made periodical announcements to watch out for small children.  We were able to secure a nice little spot right by the dais with a responsible crowd around us, during the bean throwing.  However, just before the ceremony ended the throwers accumulated on our end of the dais with huge boxes of goods (not beans) to throw, so there was a sudden surge in the crowd. That was a little frightening for my 2 year old, but she was okay in my arms. It was actually a wonderful feeling when there were dozens of little packets falling from the sky and enveloping us in a feeling of richness! However, the scramble to pick up the fallen packets was both surprising and amusing. The kind Ojiichan (older man) beside us suddenly became an oni himself as he whipped a packet from under my hand. Another stood on a packet so that my six year old couldn’t pick it up! The generous Obaachan (older woman) beside us who had passed us packets of beans was slipping unseen numbers of packets into her pockets and handbag. Despite those incidents we got a good hoard and the kindness of the Ojiichan and Obaachan returned as they complimented my kids on their stash and their devout participation. Much to my surprise I felt totally exhilarated after the whole experience.

    

Apart from the various ceremonies that were conducted there were other festivities to be enjoyed at Kitain today. They had some festival food stalls as well as some stalls selling flowers and plants, but what interested me most were the various stalls selling good luck charms, mainly Daruma and Manekineko. As we entered Kitain from the car park we stopped to look at the Daruma at the first stall. The very friendly, personable and informative owner told us many things about the goods he was selling. While we were there a man bought one of the giant daruma which would cost around 20,000 yen (approximately 200 Eur0). We were invited to join in the Sanbonjime to mark the occasion.  Sanbonjime is the custom of clapping your hands rhythmically 3 times for 3 claps and one final clap to signify fulfillment. They only do this type of Tejime (ceremonial rhythmic clapping) when they sell their biggest sized Daruma. Passersby stopped to observe and exclaim enthusiastically. It was a lovely thing to be invited to enjoy and I think we may have received some good karma from it!

I have always enjoyed Setsubun as much for what it represents as the fun and vivaciousness of the celebration.  Now that the kids are old enough to enjoy the bean throwing ceremonies at temples, it just adds to the whole experience.  It completes the day for them too, as the celebration in the house is over quite quickly. The preparation of the masks and the aftermath of thrown beans take exponentially longer than the bean throwing ceremony itself! The kids love making the masks, feasting on the ehomaki, the traditional sushi rolls or makizushi and throwing the beans and eating them. (They say that if you eat the same number of beans as your age you will have good health for the year. ) However, I think after today’s experience,  what they are most anticipating now is the bean throwing ceremony at Kitain Temple Kawagoe. 🙂

For more details on Kitain Temple including maps, access details and other seasonal information:
http://insaitama.com/autumn-leaves-at-edo-castle-remains-kitain-temple/


A fantastic detailed and informative video about Setsubun in CHICHIBU SHRINE:

 

Free Resources for Setsubun

(Written January 2015) February 3rd is Setsubun in Japan, which marks the end of winter. A common tradition associated with this ancient festival is mamemaki or beanthrowing. Most families carry out this fun tradition at home, but you can also visit a temple or shrine to do it with a crowd. In Tokyo, there are temples that have famous people, often sumo wrestlers, throwing the beans from a dias out to the excited crowd. Most preschools and children community centres also mark the day with some fun crafts and activities.

The purpose of the festival is to rid your house of demons and welcome good luck for the coming year. Hence, we chant oni wa soto, fuku ha uchi “demons out, good luck in” as we throw beans out the door or at the head of the household who dresses up as a demon. To this end kids often make oni masks for the ceremony and/or for playing dress up.  If you eat the same number of beans as your age it is believed you will have good health for the year. You can read more about the festival on the KA International Moms website http://kajapan.org/general/setsubun-chasing-the-oni-away/ or on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Setsubun

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Yesterday, in preparation for the festival next week, the kids and I talked about setsubun. 5 year old remembers it from the last 2 years and (just turned) 4 year old is learning about it in school. They make masks and holders for the roasted beans.  We will make them at home too. We practised some origami to hold the mamemaki roasted beans, there’s a link below to make your own. The beans are easy to come by in Japan at this time of year. Many shops sell commercialised mini-packs of roasted beans or nuts some with flavours. I bought ours from a home delivery shopping service, Coop. We will make demon masks next week. I wanted to share some of the setsubun and mamemaki teaching, craft and activity resources available online. Whether you are living and/or teaching in Japan, or a Japanese living abroad, or just looking for something to do with the kids on February 3rd, you will find something fun among these free setsubun art and craft resources. Most of these ideas are most suitable for toddlers and preschoolers.

Japanese Oni ; devils, demons, trolls or ogres

Japanese demons are depicted with 1 or 2 conical horns on their heads. They are often red in colour. They usually wear tiger skinned pants.

Oni Masks

 You can draw your own, or you can use the free print outs in the links below to make a mask for setsubun. There are a number of ways you can turn the free print outs or a hand drawn oni into masks. First colour (where necessary) the demon and cut it out. If you want to make a mask that covers the face you can stick a rectangular strip of paper to each ear and tape the open ends around an elastic band.  For a “mask” that is worn above the face, as per photo in mamemaki section, you can simply stick the cut out to a head band or even a cap or make your own band out of paper.

Oni Colouring pages

Free print-outs

Huge selection of coloured setsubun print outs: http://putiya.com/html/season/02gatu/season02.html

Oni Origami

An easy origami Oni (Demon) for toddlers and preschoolers
http://www.origami-club.com/season/2/fuku-oni/oni/index.html

Mamemaki holders

Mask that sits on the head and mamemaki holder made out of a milk carton cut in half

Mask that sits on the head and mamemaki holder made out of a milk carton cut in half

Milk carton setsubun mamemaki holders
One of the most popular and easiest kid’s craft for mamemaki holders is cutting a milk carton in half, piercing a hole in each side and using pipe cleaners as a handle. In the right hand (your left!) of my son in the photo to the left.

Paper cup setsubun mamemaki holders
One of the more original mamemaki holders I saw was on Hiragana Mama’s blog; a decorated paper cup.

Origami mamemaki holders
This year we are using origami boxes. This origami box paper craft is one of my favourite practical uses of origami.  You don’t need origami paper as this easy to make box uses rectangle shaped paper such as an A4 sheet of paper.

 

These are just some ideas and resources you can use to enjoy the Japanese February 3rd end of year festival by chasing away demons.  You can read about our setsubun last year, 2014,  here.

Setsubun; Chasing the demon away

Bean scattering,mamemaki,katori jingu shrine,katori-city,japan
It sounds like a metaphor for exorcism, but this is just another fun custom in Japan, carried out on February 3rd annually. Today, is Setsubun, the day before Spring starts and in some ways a type of New Year in Japan. For Setsubun, households use the ritual of Mamemaki, bean throwing, to rid the house of evil and allow luck in for the coming year. We shout “Demons out, luck in” as we throw beans at a Demon. Tonight, that demon was my husband!
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In preparation for the festivities tonight, we made some Demon masks for today’s craft. We also made little baskets to hold the beans. When my husband got home from work he donned the mask and the kid’s threw their beans at him while shouting the mamemaki chant. My husband exited the room when he felt they had “defeated” him! After that my eldest son also threw beans out the door while shouting the chant and closed the door firmly. This is another way people practise Mamemaki and he wanted to be sure.

Setsubun Activity at a children's centre
Setsubun Activity at a children’s centre

In previous years we participated in group mamemaki activities, but it was actually too scary for them with being so little. When you attend a shrine or a jidokan (free children’s centre) young children often don’t realise that somebody is dressed up as the demon, which can frighten the bejesus out of them. In some temples and shrines, such as Senso-ji in Asakusa (Tokyo), the priests or invited guests throw money in envelopes and other prizes as well as the beans into a crowd. That’s one to try out when the kids are old enough for the pushing and shoving, for now, its beans all the way.
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Tomorrow, we take out the hina matsuri dolls…

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