Yesterday was Setsubun, a Japanese festival that celebrates the beginning of spring (HA. Spring… that’d be nice.). Typically, this is celebrated at home, with one member of the family dressing up as an oni (demon) while the children throw beans at them. This symbolizes driving evil out of the house (and yourself) and welcoming purity and luck in.
Seeing as how I have no children and live alone, I decided to celebrate by going to Zenkō-ji with some other English teachers to watch the festivities there. The bean throwing was supposed to start around 1, so we planned to get to Zenkō-ji right before that.
Bad idea. It was PACKED with people. A large group of people had ribbons on, and there were signs everywhere telling them where to go. We started to stress because we didn’t have ribbons, but it turned out that those people were in the procession, and they would be allowed to enter the temple, receive a blessing, and help throw things to the crowds below (maybe next year!). We fought our way up closer to the temple and found ourselves standing right near the front of the procession! Suddenly, there were drum beats and chanting, and the procession began to move. It was a very cool sight, everyone chanting together. We even saw two people dressed up as onis, which the kids were super excited about. The atmosphere was quickly ruined, though, by the sound of girls screaming. Apparently, a popular dance group was part of the procession, and some girls had just caught sight of them. That was probably the worst part. We just wanted to stand there and watch everyone go by, but we kept getting pushed around by girls trying to get closer and get a better picture of them. Someone who we think might have been the mayor or something of Nagano City was there too, shaking hands. He didn’t shake our hands, even though we were right in front of us which made us roll our eyes a little.
Eventually we joined the crowd heading to the temple and were directed around the side where the bean throwing was going to happen. It seemed like forever…. But finally, things started.
First, the organizers taught us what to say. We repeated after him three times: 「福は内。鬼はそと。」Fuku wa uchi. Oni wa soto. Luck in. Demons out. Then the people gathered on the porch that goes around the temple began throwing beans and treats to everyone below. Immediately there was a push forward, as everyone threw their hands in the air trying to catch something. It was pretty intense; a few of my friends got elbowed in the face, and every time something fell to the ground everyone around would dive for it. I found myself having to plant my feet so as to not barrel over a small girl in front of me. It seems kind of silly to get so worked up over such small gifts, but I found myself getting swept along in all the excitement. I even threw up my left arm to grab something and immediately regretted it. I put my hand in my pocket after that to keep me from doing it again. Fun as it was, I didn’t need to be re-dislocating my shoulder over small bags of peanuts.
In the end, everyone in my group was able to get something. One friend caught something out of the air (and everyone around her clapped), another friend got two things and shared, and I grabbed one off the ground right before the woman next to me did. She clapped and patted me on the arm, then enthusiastically threw her hands back in the air. No time for hard feelings when stuff was still being thrown!
It ended once they were out of things to throw to the crowds. I was hoping that one of the onis would come out so we could throw things at him, but it didn’t happen haha. Maybe next year I’ll get invited to do it with one of my kid’s families! One can hope 😊 If not, I’ll be back at Zenkō-ji next year, ready to fight for peanuts and luck.