Experiencing the traditional Demon's Festival of Japan - Setsubun - Waku Waku

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Experiencing the traditional Demon's Festival of Japan - Setsubun

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Experiencing the traditional Demon's Festival of Japan - Setsubun

I have learned, more or less, about Setsubun through Japanese comics and animes. However, it was not until I truly experienced it that I felt: "Setsubun is amazing!!!"

Hương Giang

Hương Giang

Published on 03 May, 15:00

Setsubun (節分 - seasonal division) is the day before a season starts, usually the day before spring. Setsubun is held on February 3rd every year as a part of the Spring Festival (春祭 - Haru Matsuri).

Today, while sitting in a daze on the bus from school, I saw a little boy holding a demon mask and playing with his mother. That mask reminded me of the first time I attended the Setsubun festival since I came to Japan.

Japanese people consider this day as the day between two seasons and marks the start of a new year. Legend said that on that day, the portal between the human world and the other world will open, which allows demons to come to our world and we would have to chase them away.

Artists dressing up as demons
Artists dressing up as demons

Setsubun - when children become demon-fighting warriors!

This festival is not considered a national holiday, so we still came to school as usual. However, I could always sense a special atmosphere when going outside.

On this day, people usually throw beans to chase away demons - also known as the Mamemaki or bean scattering ritual.

Mamemaki is usually performed by a man of the household born in the corresponding zodiac year for the new year or the male head of the household.

There are many different ways to perform Mamemaki.

On the way, I saw roasted beans rolling on the road, it was because those families just simply threw beans in front of their houses.

Or in a more complicated way, I saw a family laughing happily and throwing beans at the father who was wearing a demon mask. The more the "demon" ran, the more excited the children became, they kept throwing beans while shouting:

- Oni wa soto! (Devils out!)

Right after that, they ran outside, threw beans inside the house, and said:

- Fuku wa uchi! (Fortune in!)

Experiencing the traditional Demon's Festival of Japan - Setsubun

In the meantime, the mother had finished ehomaki - the sushi rolls for the kids to enjoy. This is the signature dish of this day, it is quite similar to rice rolls but has 7 different fillings which symbolize 7 gods.

The atmosphere was bustling and cozy, which reminded me of my home and the new year back in my hometown.

I just came here and only stayed with some fellows, so I was not used to this custom. At that time, I wished my family had been here, so we would have the chance to decorate our house, someone would wear the demon mask and we would be able to play like those children and have the chance to throw "magical" beans.

We can be warriors, too!

That thought only crossed my mind briefly when I was scurrying to school. When I got to school, I was very happy because my little dream came true. The school organized a bean scattering ritual - Mamemaki - for us.

I was given small packages with aromatic soybeans, not for eating of course, but as the "weapon" to chase away demons.

Roasted beans - the weapon to chase demons away
Roasted beans - the weapon to chase demons away

I was looking forward to the appearance of the unfortunate demon that day.

Not long after, a man wearing a mask and holding a mace opened our classroom's door and barged in, then he growled and threatened us.

- Oni wa soto! – Someone screamed and threw the beans at that person.

We followed right after. The cheers, along with happiness, made me forget all my troubles. I quickly immersed myself in this "little festival". How pitiful the demon was. When he first came in, he was very aggressive, then he had to curl up to avoid the beans coming at him like arrows. The more scared the demon appeared, the more excited the crowd got, and they continued to throw small "bombs" at him.

The mask covered the man's whole face, but unfortunately, one bean was able to get through the hole in the eye (!!!!) Then he took off the mask, and wow, he was our headmaster.

Thanks to that, we had a great laugh. Fortunately, after that throw, the "demon teacher" was okay. He even joked: "I'll remember this class!"

Of course, Oni wa soto was followed by Fuku wa uchi. We all hoped to have a fortunate new year.

After the bean-scattering ritual, we were told more details about the Setsubun festival and that we would eat beans and ehomaki sushi rolls.

The number of beans we eat equalled our age plus one more beans, which represented our wish for long life.
Experiencing the traditional Demon's Festival of Japan - Setsubun

We also knew that the rituals that we had just done were only on a small scale because Setsubun is also held on a larger scale and more organized manner at big temples and shrines, especially in Tokyo with the participation of singers, actors, and Sumos.

If I have the chance, I will definitely give it a try.

Setsubun organized in temples with thousands of visitors
Setsubun organized in temples with thousands of visitors

This festival is special because it is the first festival I joined in Japan which draws me closer to the people and culture of this country. Their conception of chasing away bad luck and welcoming good fortune in the new year is the same as that of any country in the world, but the way they organize it has a very unique and unmixed impression only present in the land of the rising sun.

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Hương Giang

Hương Giang

Hi guys, my name is Huong Giang. I love travelling and Japan is the place that I can do what I desire to do. I hope my experiences will inspire you and it would be glad if we can share our things in common <3

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