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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0 thoughts on “Setsubun; Chasing the demon away”

  • theblackberryboys

    February 4, 2014 at 00:17

    Interesting tradition! We have something similar here in Hungary. It is called the burning of the kiszebab. It is to say goodbye to winter and to welcome spring, so they make a big puppet , from straw, and people also attach little pieces of papers to it, on which they write things they want to get rid of (bad dreams, fears, sicknesses). Then they burn the puppet along with the papers, so they get rid of winter and all the bad things 🙂

    Reply
    • Elle

      February 9, 2014 at 15:38

      Very interesting. My home country of Ireland, burns bonfires on October 31st for similar reasons. It was also a type of ritual to mark seasons changing. I am curious now; I think I will be researching more about these type of traditions worldwide. I like the burning of the kiszebab, sounds really fun for kids.

      Reply
  • rommel

    February 4, 2014 at 09:31

    I read about Setsubun, but I didn’t get to participate because I had to work yesterday. If only Feb 3rd fell a day earlier. 🙁 Japan has really cool traditions. So many I can barely keep up. 😀

    Reply
    • Elle

      February 9, 2014 at 15:40

      True that! 🙂 Its great for the kids though, between my Irish traditions and the ones (so completely different) here, barely a week goes by that we don’t have a cultural type craft to do or something to celebrate. And often there’s some really delicious food to go along with the celebration 🙂

      Reply
  • Bronwyn Joy @ Journeys Of The Fabulist

    February 6, 2014 at 23:21

    I love the dramatisation – but I can see how it would be scary for young kids to go to a group ceremony with crowds and stranger-demons. You did an excellent job bringing the celebration home and to their age group.

    Reply
    • Elle

      February 9, 2014 at 15:42

      You’ll probably get to enjoy some traditions while you are here. Are you here March 4th? (sorry if there is something on your blog; the kids were sick last week and I’m behind on my reading!) Its girls day on the 4th and there are places you can view the dolls display from now until that day. 🙂

      Reply
      • Bronwyn Joy @ Journeys Of The Fabulist

        February 9, 2014 at 15:57

        I haven’t given my exact dates on my blog – I don’t tend to if we’re all going, although it turns out there’ll be someone here with the cat so it’s probably ok this time. We’ll be in Japan on the 4th – I’ll have to check out if there’s anything near where we’ll be! Thanks for the tip.

        Sorry to hear everyone’s been sick, and hope they’re all better. I sent you that list of questions – you probably haven’t got around to even reading it yet, but let me know if it went astray (a couple of my emails went mysteriously AWOL last week which I didn’t realise until I chased someone up).

        Reply
      • Bronwyn Joy @ Journeys Of The Fabulist

        February 9, 2014 at 15:58

        Oh, wiki says March 3rd – is that right?

        Reply
        • Elle

          February 9, 2014 at 22:03

          Sorry, my bad – I have the 4th on my mind as I am flying that day!! It is the 3rd. I saw the email tonight and after an initial few problems with sending (gremlins!?) I got my response back to you. Sorry if you end up with it 3 times.

          Reply
  • shahacelissaya

    February 9, 2014 at 11:59

    Hey, thanks for referring to my Blog 🙂
    I have to say the personal experience was partially very shocking for me. I know that I just wear a mask, but these children often just saw that demon creature and started crying – other were very proud and tried to touch my hand, so that they can tell others that they have touched a demon:)
    For that temple I was as it seems the first woman who have ever played a demon.
    But at the public places we have been to, we also put off our masks and very often children came after that and wanted to take a picture with me, but having the mask in hand.

    Reply
    • Elle

      February 9, 2014 at 15:45

      Demons, giant mascots and even clowns can be terrifying for kids. Its good that you showed your face and they could make the connection that it was a mask. You seem to be having really hands-on experiences on your year. Does it make you want to stay longer!?

      Reply
      • shahacelissaya

        February 9, 2014 at 19:28

        Well I stay now for one year. I hope that I can gain enough experience to come back again 😉

        Reply
  • shahacelissaya

    February 9, 2014 at 12:04

    just for your interest – here a nice children/parent reaction on my “demon activities”
    http://shahacelissaya.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/the-setsubun-festival/

    Reply
  • Hina Matsuri Paper Cup Craft for Toddlers and Preschoolers | Life in Japan with toddlers

    February 10, 2014 at 22:31

    […] ← Chasing the demon away […]

    Reply
  • dweezer19

    February 11, 2014 at 01:57

    How wonderful that you are able to experience and expose your children to such a diverse cultural celebration.

    Reply
    • Elle

      February 11, 2014 at 21:30

      I love all the festivals and cultural days throughout the year. Never a dull moment! 🙂

      Reply
  • Free Resources for Setsubun 2015 | Life in Japan with toddlers

    January 30, 2015 at 15:50

    […] 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. […]

    Reply

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