Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Spring Cleaning, Japanese Style

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to throw beans at the devil.  No, that's not slang for some kind of death-defying event, but instead a custom performed during the Japanese holiday of Setsubun (節分), or literally, "seasonal division."

Setsubun signals the end of winter and the first day of spring, and brings with it quite a few tasty rituals to cleanse away all of the past year's evil and replace it with good luck for the coming year.  The epitome of this cleansing spree is in the performance of mamemaki, or bean scattering!  The male head of the household dons a demon or devil mask while the family members throw roasted soybeans, peanuts, and sometimes chocolates at him all the while chanting "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" (Demons out!  Luck in!).

Since my own household-devil (aka my husband) was out at work, our neighbors stepped in to help me get rid of those pesky evil spirits and bouts of misfortune that have been plaguing our paper-thin walls.  Obviously, I should have done my homework on the accompanying chant, but all in all, our place feels a lot more...how should I say...demon-free:

The throwing of the beans (peanuts, etc.) are thought to symbolically purify the home by forcing out the evil spirits that harbor bad health and other grievances.  As a part of bringing luck in, one is supposed to eat said thrown soybeans, one for each year of life, plus one for (even MORE) good luck.  To top it all off, beans should be scattered in each of the rooms of the house as well, and then gathered.  I wonder how many devil-spirit-lucky beans go missing, only to resurface with the dust bunnies year after year?

If you want even more bang for your luck-buck, it is customary to eat a special kind of uncut maki-zushi (rolled sushi called Eho-Maki, or "lucky direction roll") in complete silence while facing the lucky direction determined by the zodiac symbol of the year.  For the year of the Ox, I was told that I had to face "East-North-East."  I'm not sure if that means "extra-easterly Northeast" or what...I guess we'll see how good of a job I did with my luck-o-meter in the coming year!

No comments: