Go into any convenience store or supermaket in Japan now and you will see displays of devil masks and dried soybeans. Pick up a set (they’re sold together) and get ready for the annual bean throwing ceremony! Held every year on Setsubun (Feb. 3), the last day of winter according to the lunar calendar, bean-throwing ceremonies take place all over Japan in private homes, and also temples and shrines. The ceremony dates back to to the Muromachi Period (1333-1568), and the purpose is to drive evil away for the next year.
And exactly how does one drive evil away? Easy! By yelling “Devils out, fortune in!” while throwing beans at symbolic devils, represented by people wearing devil masks (see photo). The very polite and obedient Japanese devils (oni) apparently listen and keep away for the year.
There are several famous places to go to see bean throwing events, such as at Sensoji Temple in Akakusa, Tokyo, where 150,000 people attend. If you’re a sumo fan, visit the Setsubun festival at Tomioka Hachimangu shrine, where they also honor sumo wrestlers with their names etched into the “Yokozuna Stone.” Several sumo wrestlers throw beans and rice cakes to crowds of people. If you catch one, you’ll get a whole year of good luck.
But if you’re not into crowds and would like to participate, ask around at a small local shrine or temples where it is done more as a tradition than an event. Or, tell a Japanese person you’d like to see the ceremony, and they just might invite you to their house for the real thing!
When the festival is performed in the home, the father will dress up in an oni mask, and the family members will throw beans at him while chanting the “Devils out, fortune in!” mantra.
What happens to the beans? You eat them afterward–one bean for every year old you are. This will bring you even more good luck.
If you can participate in the Setsubun event, I don’t suppose you’ll have to worry about running out of luck this year.
Bean-throwing events Feb 3, 2008
2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku (Asakusa station) Tokyo
Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine
1-20-3, Tomioka, Koto-ku, Tokyo
Get off at Monzen-nakacho on the Tozai subway line
Or contact the Tokyo Tourist Information Center
Amy Chavez is author of Guidebook to Japan: What the other guidebooks won’t tell you” She is a columnist for The Japan Times, co-hosts the Planet Japan podcast. Visit her website at www.amychavez.com