Whatever Works! January 27 2011

Each February 3rd in Japan is known as setsubun. The word setsubun literally means a division of the seasons, since it is traditionally held that this time of year marks the beginning of the "eve of Spring." On the day of setsubun, the most common and visible custom is for people of all ages to throw beans (usually dried soybeans), while chanting oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi! : basically, "Out with demons, in with good luck!"Traditional beliefs held that the throwing of the beans and chanting would drive away demons of misfortune and thus allow prosperity to enter one’s life and family. People (particularly children) are also sometimes seen wearing masks representing these bad-luck demons or cherubs of good fortune. They might act out the parts of demons being driven away and good fortune taking its place. This ritual of renewal has the same undertones as cleaning one’s house and paying obligations prior to the New Year in Japan, and has parallels in the feelings of renewal behind New Year’s resolutions and Spring Cleaning in Western countries. Another custom at the time of setsubun is to eat the number of beans corresponding to your age. News broadcasts and other television shows on February 3rd carry footage of Japanese sumo wrestlers and other celebrities who are 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, or even 72 years old standing outside well-known shrines throwing and/or eating dried soybeans.