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Setsubun drives bad spirits out

Date Posted: 2003-02-08

February 3 is “Setsubun” or “Mamemaki” day in Japanese. It marks the beginning of Spring. Japanese tradition says it is also the day to drive out evil, sickness and misfortune from the old year, and welcome good luck, health and fortune into the new one though a ritual known as mame-maki (bean-throwing).

Japanese fathers usually spend the day wearing a devil mask, representing a demon, evil and bad luck, while the rest of the family throws roasted soybeans at him to drive out the badness. With shouts "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" ("Out with the demons! In with good luck!") he is pelted with beans. Years ago, special care was taken to throw beans in the "lucky direction," the direction of the god of that year, and then once in the opposite direction.

The custom has been observed for more than 1,000 years, although few people observe it any more. School children still find it a fun thing to do, as their teacher usually gets the role of the demon. In any case, the beans are edible and the kids can have a snack at the end of the ceremony.

Japanese temples also follow the customs. A large crowd at Naha’s Naminoue Temple gathered for the ceremony on Monday, watching priests throw beans from the upper floor of the shrine. People also keep the beans thrown from a shrine as charms that bring them good luck throughout the year.

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