Setsubun sign written in Japanese with February 3rd date in kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture

For the first time in three years, Kitain Temple in Kawagoe will have their Setsubun Festival with a mamemaki bean throwing ceremony. Below you will find a first hand account of the setsubun celebration at Kitain Temple, as well as the information for the 2023 bean throwing ceremony.

setsubun at Kawagoe Kitain Temple

Setsubun celebrations at Kitain Temple Kawagoe

Setsubun

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.  

Setsubun at a temple

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. In both Tokyo and Saitama some temples have famous 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. In Saitama, Souganji is particularly famous for their oni performance.

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. For my girls very first mamemaki experience back in 2017, we went to one of the biggest in this part of Saitama; Kitain Temple in Kawagoe. 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.

Setsubun at Kitain Temple

There was no mamemaki bean throwing at Kitain in either 2021 or 2022 due to the pandemic. So I was so ecstatic when Kitain announced this past weekend (on January 6th 2023) that they will be having Setsubun in 2023 for the first time in three years. They also had their chrysanthemum festival and popular daruma market this / last year.

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. 🙂

This post is a republish of the original 2017 post (with lots of updated information), but I left my account of that 2017 visit below:

One of the reasons I didn’t bring my three girls to mamemaki until the older two were kindergarten age is, because I had visited one in Sakado with my son several years before and he was quite intimated by the crowds. But it was a very different atmosphere. However, I found at Kitain that people were quite careful of children, for the most part. In Kitain they also make periodical announcements to watch out for small children.  We were able to secure a nice little spot right by the dais in Kitain, with a responsible crowd around us, during the bean throwing.  

The scramble!

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 then 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.

collection of goodies received at a bean throwing ceremony at Kawagoe Kitain Temple
Free keyrings received at a Setsubun festival in Kawagoe Kitain

Festival

Apart from the various ceremonies that are conducted there are other festivities to be enjoyed at Kitain on February 3rd annually. They have some festival food stalls as well as some stalls selling flowers and plants. They also have various stalls selling good luck charms, mainly Daruma and Manekineko. So if you missed the famous Daruma market of Kitain on January 3rd, you have another chance to pick up a daruma at the setsubun festival. They even conduct Sanbonjime…

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. In 2017 while we were chatting with the lovely vendor, somebody bought one of the giant daruma which would cost around 20,000 yen (approximately 200 Euro). We were invited to join in the Sanbonjime to mark the occasion.  It was a lovely thing to be invited to enjoy and I think we received some good karma from it too!

Fun galore!

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. ) But the bean throwing ceremony and Setsubun festivals at the temples (and shrines), really adds to the day.


2023 information

Event: Kitain Setsubun Festival 喜多院節分会(令和5年)

Date: Friday February 3rd 2023

Time: In a normal year, generally the bean throwing ceremony is between noon and 1.30 pm. In 2023, it will be from 12.30 to 13.30. The actual throwing of the beans from the dais to the eagerly awaiting crowds below, is in the last ten minutes, that is from 1.20 pm. Sometimes they have two rounds, but as it is a weekday and in a pandemic, it will probably just be the one.

Official 2023 event web page.

>>More Setsubun places in Saitama Prefecture.

>>Don’t miss this extensive range of Setsubun freebies!

For more details on Kitain Temple including maps, access details;


A fantastic detailed and informative video about Setsubun in CHICHIBU SHRINE:
https://youtu.be/P36zBCA_no0

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