Sunday, February 04, 2007


Yesterday, 2/3, was setsubun, a holiday when people drive out evil spirits in hopes of having a prosperous new year. Traditionally, there are two basic steps to this celebration. First, either the male head of the household or a male whose birth year corresponds to that years symbol on the Chinese zodiac throws roasted soy beans at another member of the household who is wearing a demon mask. The other members of the family yell, "Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi". This means "Demons, out, good luck, in!" Based upon an old Buddhist tradition, the beans are thought to drive away evil spirits. Next, people eat one soybean for each year of their lives. This is thought to give them good luck and good health in the following year. Many will also visit a local shrine, where the priest will toss packages of roasted soy beans, chips, candy and other prizes to the visitors.

While this is the tradition, there are other practices in various areas of the country. Below is a sampling from the news yesterday of practices thought to drive out evil spirits. It is not comprehensive, but it is fun.

1. Crying babies. At Saikyoji temple, there is a yearly competition in which parents try to get their babies to cry by scaring, shaking or pinching them. The baby that cries first, wins. This is because babies who can cry loud are supposedly healthy. Plus, the sound of crying babies drives the evil spirits away. Maybe the spirits think the cries are a symptom of dirty diapers. Maybe they see parents tormenting their children to tears and consider their work done.

2. Snowballs. I don't remember where this ceremony took place, but in one town in addition to roasted soybeans, snowballs are also used to drive away spirits.

3. The smell of roasted sardines (note: this picture is not from the event). I do not remember the location for this event either, but on NHK it was reported that at one shrine, sardines are roasted because it is believed that the smell of the smoke will drive out demons. I'm not sure of the effect of sardines on spirits, but they've been known to attract some pretty unsavory characters in the past.

4. These guys.

My money's on number 4.


SouthAsiaRocks said...

hahaha! That blog was awesome! I was totally cracking up!

John in Japan said...

I am also with Number 4. Like, my favorite movie, or something!

Rhology said...

I used to ask my friends after Setsubun:
ME: Did you throw stuff at the demons last yr?
THEM: Of course!
ME: Did it drive them out and did you have good luck last yr?
THEM: Ehhh, not so much.
ME: ...
THEM: ... [sheepish smile]
ME: Cool, talk to you later!