Setsubun is half way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. In America people watch ground hogs and predict the weather. In Japan people throw beans for luck. We do it at home, in public as well. At home it is often when the father gets home. He will put on a paper devil mask, given free when you buy the beans. Then the family throws beans at him, shouting, “bad luck out!” Then they will open windows, cold as the night may be, and throw more beans and shout, “good luck in!“
Listen in the evening on February 3rd, you will hear them.
It is also believed that people should eat one of these dried parched soy beans for each year they have been alive, also for luck in the coming year.
Shinto shrines, and temples hold events. Local community leaders, Sumo Wrestlers, Kabuki ot TVcelebrities will be recruited to throw beans, toys, candies, fresh fruit, all sorts of things, to the crowds that gather for free things and for luck. Entertainment in the form howling snarling devils, jugglers, or ancient ritual plays may also be offered.
I used to live near Shitaya Shrine. There were artisans and traditional crafts people. They would throw fine products. I first heard of of this from the old bent larmin man. He said with pride, “They throw scissors and knives!” I knew that there was a famous knife maker around the corner and also a company that hand forged scissors, but the image of a crowd, hands raised being showered with sharp metal objects was a surprise.
"Scissors! Knives! They throw scissors and knives?"
The old guy laughed. “They throw pieces of paper. You collect the scissors and knives later. Really good ones.”
That was twenty five years ago. I doubt they throws knives and scissors anymore. Those craftsmen must be dead and their children to wise to continue the father's hard work for such little money.
Where is culture going? Where is the money now?
Yesterday, Setsubun, in Yanaka I found culture and money both. The local Yanaka Beer Hall, a funny name, as the room of the, “beer hall,“ is not eight by ten foot (3x4 meters) wide. The beer hall is part of a new complex fitted into old buildings. It must have been a factory or business complex seventy years ago. It is a set of great old wooden buildings, not so much renovated as repaired. One holds a bakery, one a public rental space, one a rental gallery, one a, “beer hall.“
Some local business men saw a chance, invested some money fixing it up, and now tucked away, a block behind the police box, is a complex of little shops that seem to be making money.
I was there last night because they were throwing beans for preschoolers. It seems counter intuitive, an event after dark, on a cold night from a beer hall for preschoolers. It shows how times change. Kids used to go to the shrines with their mothers to catch beans in the afternoon while papa worked. But now mama is working as well. The kid is in preschool are left out of bean throwing luck, devils and fun.
With a single paper posted notice word spread thru the mamas. At 6:30 last night in the wide walkway in front of the beer hall was a gathering of mamas and preschoolers there for fun. The beer folks distributed beans to the kids to throw at the Oni, the devil. Then he emerged from the rattling old wooden door of the beer hall - a large man, bare feet, a wig and red pajamas, scaring the living shit out of my 2 year old. Some of the kids threw their beans, some left that to their mamas. A couple of the older kids, wise to the fact that he was actually just a guy in red pajamas and an animal skin sarong, began tugging at his clothes.
Then the main event, a little window on the second floor of the beer hall opened and young ladies that worked in the beer hall began throwing sweets and crackers in tiny plastic packages to kids and mothers below. Fun. Everybody got some. Half an hour after it had begun children were back on their mother's bicycles heading home for dinner.
This was not a money maker for the beer hall. I was the only that bought a beer, but it was not a great expense either. It spread good will, let local folks know the beer hall is there and open for business. It evolved a tradition and offered a service to mothers and children in a Japan where a lot more mamas work.