Tuesday, 3 February 2009

PostHeaderIcon Different Japan: Setsubun


I thought I'd break my blog hiatus by writing about a little bit of Japanese culture I just forced myself to do on this rainy and bleak evening. Setsubun (節分) literally means "seasonal division" and it is the day before the beginning of a new season. However, the main day that is celebrated is that of February 3rd as tomorrow is apparently the start of spring. Also, the proper name for today is actually Risshun (立春) which.... err has the kanji for 'stand' and 'spring'.

Anyway... it is historically linked to the Lunar New Year and is a sort of New Year Eve's sort of celebration. Therefore, there is a special ritual to get rid of all the evil demons from the previous year. To do this you shout ONI WA SOTO (鬼は外) which means DEMON OUT whilst throwing soy beans outside. After this you go outside and shout FUKU WA UCHI (福は内) or GOOD LUCK IN whilst throwing more beans. It is then custom to eat a bean for each year you have been alive. I think the man of the household usually does all this and sometimes someone in the family will put on a demon mask and be chased away. I quite liked the sound of it when my English teacher mentioned it so I bought some beans after work and did it there. I quite enjoyed the shouting to be honest. Bit of a stressful week.

Also, this custom seems to have similarities around the world and reminds me of Hogmany/New Year in Scotland. Not only did my mother open the windows to the let freezing "new year air" in but there is an old custom called "first-footing". A tall, dark-haired man is usually chosen to be the first person to cross the threshold of a house during the new year. They need to leave the house before midnight and return after "the bells". They're meant to bring gifts that will bring good luck to the house in the next year. This used to be coins, salt, bread and coal which symbolised wealth/flavour/food and warmth. Nowadays it is more common just to bring whisky and shortbread.


Naomi said...

so you were never chosen as the first person to cross the threshold eh...?

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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.