Tuesday, March 3, 2009

(This seasonal post is from Kidist. Thank you Kidi!)

In Japan, the end of winter (by the lunar calendar) is celebrated every year in a special manner. Setsubun (February 3rd) is the last day of winter and what comes with it is an interesting ritual: throwing beans.

Aside from the fun that it allegedly provides, the reasoning behind celebration of Setsubun is to ward off evil. There are three vital practices that ought to be performed such that one can be certain that evil has left.

First and foremost is the ritual of mame maki (throwing beans). Mishima asserts that the beans need to be roasted before they are thrown. This is logical since the thrown beans are to be picked up by the lucky ones attending the ritual and be eaten. The beans are called fuku mame, which translates to beans of luck. However, the most fortunate people are those that gather beans equal to the number of their age.

In this ceremony, it is customary to invite Japanese celebrities such as sumo wrestlers or people whose zodiac sign match the year to do the honor of scattering the beans, which usually takes place in temples and shrines (Sosnoski, 9 and Chavez).

It is also customary to do this ritual at home, where the members of the house throw the beans at the father—who masquerades as the devil (Chavez).

This relates to my second point; the other method to protect against evil is by having some of the celebrators wear masks to pretend to be the devil. The origin of this might be the Chinese celebration tsuina, wherein the Chinese wear masks to look like demons since the 8th Century to mark the end of winter and to symbolize that the new year will be protected from evil (Sosnoski, 9). From this explanation, it is easy to see that both the Japanese and the Chinese visualize the demon to make the celebrations more real and because visualization makes it easier for one to believe that he/she is protected against the evil and it has indeed warded off.

The third way to drive evil away is by shouting: ‘oni wa soto’ (demons, get out) and ‘fuku wa uchi’ (happiness, come in). Sosnoski draws attention to this shouting stating it is somewhat a prayer (9). Thus, the Japanese are looking for some control over the devils and the shouting serves this purpose. Moreover, it is believed that the polite devils are supposed to stay away for a year once this ceremony has been observed (Chavez).

In general, looking at the three different methods the Japanese use to keep evil away has reminded me of an important concept that we have been discussing in class. That is, the bean thrower throws the fortune beans to expel the evil. However, it is the same beans that are to be eaten by the people looking for good luck. Thus, the beans signify bringing in purity (fortune) on the one hand, whereas they signify fending off pollution (evil) on the other hand.

For additional sources about related material, you might find these links interesting.





~guest blogger, Kidist Assefa