Setsubun: Fire-Fighting Demons and Crying Babies

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February 24th 2008
Published: February 27th 2008
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And their off!
Setsubun is the day before the beginning of the spring season as associated with the Lunar New Year that Japan used to follow along with China. So, Setsubun used to be like New Year’s Eve until Japan switched to the Western calendar where New Years is January 1st. Setsubun is kind of like Japan's version of Groundhog Day in the U.S, but involves throwing beans at demons instead of a groundhog. When the winter is coming to a close, Japanese people celebrate setsubun by ritually cleansing themselves and their houses of bad luck and demons. You do this, of course, by throwing beans at demons and eating the same number of beans as your age. This will ensure you good luck and health for the next year. It’s a fun holiday for kids, but people of all ages celebrate it.

Last year I celebrated Setsubun with my kids at the preschool, so I was looking forward to throwing beans with them again this year. The lucky people with the job of the oni (demon) are the local fire department, which makes for a good excuse to teach the kids about the dangers of fire at the same time. So, the

Just ignore my fire department uniform...ehem...
fire department came and thanked the kids for all the hard work they had done to prevent fires on Yuge. Every child got a present of origami for their efforts. Then we watched a cartoon (newer than the 70’s cartoon of poor quality from last year) about fire safety, during which the fire department sneaked away and put on their oni masks. After the cartoon was over, we all went outside with hands full of beans and waited. Soon the oni came running at us with scary faces and clubs in hand, and chaos ensued.

Most of the youngest kids broke out in tears, kids were running everywhere and screaming at the top of their lungs, and beans were flying left and right. The kids chanted “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa Uchi!” which means “Demons out! Luck in!” Then, once it looked like the oni had given up, everyone got enough beans for their age and ate them. Of course most of the kids were eating three or four beans, but I ate twenty-four. Finally, after all the kids had settled down and stopped crying, they all fearlessly took group photos posing with the oni.

It was good

the little ones taking time out from the chaos to have a good cry
fun, and I, being slightly superstitious, am sure that I will be in good health for the next year. Unfortunately, despite the celebration of the coming of spring, spring weather has not yet come to Japan, and I am still hiding under my kotatsu every night to escape the cold.

Additional photos below
Photos: 9, Displayed: 9



three little oni!

Oni was soto! Fuku wa uchi!

taking aim...

stranded with a handful of beans

Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!

The oni aren't so scary afterall. Group photo!

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