Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Setsubun at Suwa Jinja!

Shrine decorations
Last week Mackenzie's gymnastics sensei gave her a cute little origami box with two chocolate filled marshmallows inside, a mask to cut out, and a paper explaining that Setsubun is coming up.  So, I hit the interwebs to sort out this Japanese tradition.
Setsubun is a bean throwing ceremony held on 3 February every year to celebrate the first day of Spring, according the lunar calendar.  Setsubun literally means "division between two seasons", but is now only celebrated for the winter/spring division.    

I searched and searched the internet to find where Setsubun would be celebrated in Yokosuka and found a few places.  We chose to go to Suwa Jinja because it was the only one that held the ceremony at a time that wouldn't interfere with karate lessons.  

At about 1320, we left the house and made it to Suwa Jinja just a few minutes before the 1400 ceremony.  When we arrived, this small shrine was already packed with people.  The man on the right was talking into that bullhorn, I'm assuming he was saying something along the lines of, "There are a lot of people.  Pack in this tiny space like sardines if you expect to catch your luck!  Pack it in people, pack it in!"


See the red dragon mask on the floor?
Okay, so I read that this is what happens at the shrine:  at some point people will walk out onto the stage with wooden boxes full of beans.  Then, those people will throw beans into the crowd.  If you are lucky enough to catch a bean then you will have good luck for the year.

Pack it in people!  Pack it in!  (side note:  look at that blonde lady on the right, remember her for later in the story)
A little after two about 15 people walked out onto the stage with wooden boxes.  The bullhorn guy introduced all the throwers.  Once he was done, it was game on for those old Japanese ladies!

Oh.My.Gosh!

I had to grab my kids a couple times and save them from the ladies that pushed them out of the way trying to get to the front.  I made a mistake and didn't have my feet in a more stable, wider stance, and when they started pushing I lost my footing and almost fell on Garytt!


The first several throws didn't come close to us.  But, with the crowd pushing us forward the next round of throws made it into our area.  I jumped up and actually tipped a bag of beans.  Then, I turned around to see where it went.  It was right at my feet.  So, I bent down to get the bag just as the entire crowd shifted.  I was pushed towards the stage, as I was bent over, not a very graceful movement, I'm sure.  Then, the crowd shifted again.  And, when it did, that blonde lady above, dumped two cups worth of some warm liquid all over my head.  I have no idea what that was.  It was warm, it was white, it smelled maybe like wheat or something like it, and it had to be full of sugar because it immediately stiffened in my hair!  I heard her say, "Oh no, oh no, oh no."  But, I just turned, grabbed both my kids by the collars of their jackets and pulled them out of the crowd.

At this point, I was trying to shake some of the liquid out of my hair.  it didn't work.  Immediately, it turned solid in my hair.  Mackenzie said, in her very concerned squeaky voice, "Um, Mommy, you have white stuff in your hair."  She was right.  Whatever was in that liquid turned into white chunks in my black hair.  Geez.  All I could think about on the way back to the base was that scene in There's Something About Mary.  Guess we will be walking back home so I can wash my hair before karate.


Here is Mackenzie's oni ~ ogre mask.  The little bag is what I got at Suwa Jinja.


The contents of the bag:  5 Yen and a handful of fuku mame (fortune beans; roasted soy beans)


Well, what are the beans for?  A person in the family (usually the man in the household who was born in the current animal year, this is the year of the sheep) dons the oni mask.  Then, the family members throw beans at that person, this action is called mamemaki, literally, bean scattering.  In Japan the oni is considered bad, so throwing the beans at the oni is supposed to purify the family.  When you throw the beans you say, "Oni wa soto!  Fuku wa uchi!"  ~  Demons out, luck in.

When I told the kids we were going to do this when Daddy got home Garytt was so excited!  I mean, he had permission to throw food.  In the house.  At his daddy!  Um, what kid would pass that opportunity up?  Mackenzie would.  Daddy's little girl.  Well, when Daddy got home he was more than tired, so I offered to be the oni if he would take pictures.

I came in the front door and Boy wouldn't even let me get past him!  He immediately started pelting me.  And, I don't mean tossing those beans at me.  I'm talking, full-on, major-league-baseball-wind-up, step-into-it, launching beans at me!



Meanwhile, Mackenzie hid in terror behind Daddy's chair.  After the bean pelting, the kids gathered up the bad beans and tossed them out the door. 



We had a fun day!  This isn't exactly anything that follows our beliefs, but it was fun to participate in a Japanese tradition that has happened for centuries.  I hope my kids weren't too traumatized by the intense crowd at Suwa Jinja, the hot-steaming liquid pouring blonde, the scary oni mask-wearing Mamma, or the terrifyingly intense bean-throwing Boy.

Now, I'm curious how this luck thing works.  Does the luck start when I have it under my control?  Because it sure wasn't lucky of me to have that hot, steaming drink dumped all over my head.  But, that happened before I grabbed the bag.  Hmmm....something to think about....