Saturday, February 7, 2009

"Demons out! Luck in!!"

"Oni wa soto!! Fuku wa uchi!!", we yell as we throw dried soy-beans around the house...

Well, it's a bit deeper than that I guess. February 3rd is 'setsubun' in Japan. Technically, the word refers to the day that the season changes, so there are 4 in a year. Traditionally though, in Japan it's used for the spring transition. In Japan, spring marks the official beginning of many things, including the school year. In past times, it was considered the beginning of the new year as well. In accordance with this, there is a ritual spiritual cleansing that occurs on this day.

In largely agricultural Japan, rice and soy-beans are considered sacred, and are accorded certain spiritual powers. Soy beans have the power to dispel evil spirits, which are responsible for bringing illness and misfortune to any home. Thus, the head of the household first 'blesses' a wooden masu box containing the beans, then travels through the house 'evicting' the spirits which may have taken up residence throughout the previous year.

The front doors are opened wide, to allow the spirits to leave unhindered. Then the beans are thrown up to the ceiling in each main room for luck, and out toward the doors to dispel the spirits. Often a family member will 'dress up' as a demon, with a mask usually, and act out the part of the spirits being chased out by the beans. The final cleansing takes place at the entrance itself, to ensure that the demons are good and gone.

Taiga enjoyed the enactment at the preschool, where all the kids made demon masks, and ran around while the head-master (and also junior priest of the temple) cleansed each classroom. He then brought home a package of 'blessed' beans for the home ritual. Jiichan and Kai did the bean throwing at home, while Taiga ran around as the Oni demon.

Of course, even after a good cleaning, we find beans in odd corners for weeks, and sometimes months afterward... Maybe a good warning to any errant spirits who might get the idea to come back.

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