What is Setsubun? WIkipedia helps to explain: Setsubun (節分= Bean-Throwing Festival or Bean-Throwing Ceremony) is the day before the beginning of each season in Japan. The name literally means "seasonal division", but usually the term refers to the spring Setsubun, properly called Risshun (立春) celebrated yearly on February 3 as part of the Spring Festival (春祭, haru matsuri?). In its association with the Lunar New Year, Spring Setsubun can be and was previously thought of as a sort of New Year's Eve, and so was accompanied by a special ritual to cleanse away all the evil of the former year and drive away disease-bringing evil spirits for the year to come. This special ritual is called mamemaki (豆撒き, lit. bean throwing).
The tradition is, the male in the household - who was born with the same Chinese zodiac as the Chinese zodiac of the year or if there is none, then the head of the household - throws beans out of the house. This is called mamemaki (bean-throwing). Roasted soybeans (fuku mame) are thrown either out the door or at a member of the family wearing an oni (demon) mask, while the throwers chant "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" The words roughly translate to "Demons out! Luck in!" Then, the rest of the roasted soybeans are eaten to bring good luck in.
And then, the big sushi. Big sushi is part of Setsubun. The sushi is bigger than usual sushi. It's as big as lontong. The tradition is, everybody should eat this sushi facing a certain direction which is different every year. The whole sushi is to eat in whole, without cutting it. This is believed to get luck all year.
In almost every temple (tera) or shrine (jinja), there are celebrations of this day. Several weeks before, my Indonesian girl friend, Sigi, passed me an information she read on a poster in Kuwana station about Setsubun ceremony in a jinja close by the station. We were curious about this ceremony. But it was not until the D-day, in the morning we finally decided to go. The festival was divided in three sessions: 11 AM, 1 PM, and 3 PM. We decided to go to the 11 AM session.
My mistake. I was late, as usual. We started it late, and we still had to find the jinja. I hadn't realize that it could take that long to find the jinja, as we didn't know the shortest way and we hadn't known the jinja at all.
Anyway, we finally found the jinja. We followed people marching, and Sigi asked a man where the jinja was. He gave a direction and we walked there. However, we didn't see anything happen. So, we washed our hands, as people usually do whenever they enter a jinja or a tera. We decided to buy big sushi for us, to eat at home. And each of us took a cup of hot amazake flavoured with ginger in amazake stall with free donation, whatever amount of money we would donate. A man in charged there gave each of us a handful of black beans. I like those beans. They're so delicious. I think these are the same kind of beans people use to make kecap (Indonesian soy sauce, sweet or salty) and shoyu (Japanese soy sauce, salty).
Done my shopping, my husband sent me a message that he wanted to meet me at Mr. Donuts - a donuts chain shop - at 2.30 PM. Just before I replied his message, he called me and said that he wanted to see the matsuri and he was going to leave school early, in a few minutes from the time he spoke. It's cool that school allows teachers to leave early without using leave forms if it's something to do with cultural events.
So after walking Sigi to bus stop, I walked to Mr. Donuts. The line was long. I stood for around 15 minutes before I was finally seated.
At 2.25 my husband arrived, and just a few seconds later I saw Danny and Jason stood with him. They sat on my table, and it turned that it was Danny's idea to see this matsuri. Jason was only accidentally passing by Mr. Donuts and he saw them and he decided to join. It was actually going to be "Lost night" that night for us, Jason and Matthew, we were going to watch the premier of the newest season of Lost, the series, in our place. Matthew was planning to bring his projector (which he actually always borrows from City Hall).
I said that I actually had gone to a jinja close to Kuwana eki and bought a big sushi. And Joe said that the jinja was actually the one Danny was talking about. Danny said that the event had something to do with his school.
Fifteen minutes later we left Mr. Donuts and walked fast to the jinja. Danny showed even a shorter way to the jinja. It was very close to Kuwana station. We met some Danny's students and Jason's students, but none of my husband's students.
Apparently, the 3 PM session had just started when we arrived. The mayor of the city opened the matsuri with a short speech, followed by an applaud from people, then a brief speech by a Budhhist leader, then the mayor threw white small bags to the audience, which Jason thought were pigeons. These were bags of fuku mame.
Of course this was a religious or cultural festival, and I can understand how important fuku mame was for people, in fact, every aspect of it, however, I could still not believe how people rushed for these bags of fuku mame. This just was like in my country! Ha! Would you believe if I said that I even had to compete with a woman, an adult, older than I am, probably an oba-san (aunt = people use this term to refer to aged women but not too old - people in 40s - 50s years of age) to get a bag of fuku mame? I did!
I got a bag, after several attempts to get just one bag of fuku mame of hundreds the mayor and his crew threw to the gathering people, kept it in my pocket, and wanted to get another just for fun, and grabbed a bag on the ground, between people's feet, but at the same time, an oba-san also grabbed it, so chances were pull my hand away with fuku mame or leave it. I decided to leave it to the oba-san. It was so hilarious that it happened.
Danny started to eat up all the fuku mame he had, and that was what we did. So, I walked up to the main building of the shrine, to see people praying and wishing and started to eat my fuku mame. There was a campfire too, so that I could just throw away my garbage. But after a few seeds, I found a piece of paper inside my bag. Jason was the closest person around me, in fact, I didn't see where my husband and Danny were. He read what was written in my piece of paper, and he checked in his dictionary, it said "bamboo ladle". "Eh?" both of us didn't get it. Probably seeing confusion in our faces, a lady came to us and said that we had to bring the paper to a stall in a certain direction to exchange it with a bamboo ladle. And she gave Jason a piece of paper with the same word.
With pounded hearts we rushed to the stall we had to go. And it turned to be the amazake stall. Joe and Danny were curious and followed us. Jason and I gave our papers, and we got a cute bamboo ladle for each of us! We were as happy as kids getting free candies.
This seemed to start a trend. Joe and Danny were curious if they could have another chance. Neither of Joe or Danny had a piece of door-prize paper in their fuku mame bags, and Danny wanted to open another bag he meant to give to Joanna, but he was doubtful about it, he just wanted to let Joanna open it. And my husband just wanted to get back to the front yard to seek if there are bags of fuku mame left unpicked. But before they decided to do anything, the man in the stall, the same man who gave fuku mame to me when I came first with Sigi, gave each of them a bag of two pairs of hashi (chopsticks), a pair for a man, another pair for a woman. Just perfect for Joe and me and Danny and Joanna. And even more perfect for Joe and me, as we got each a pair of hashi and a new ladle for our rice! :)
After this door-prize euphoria, I wanted them to have amazake I had. But not a single cup was available. The amazake had probably long gone because people liked it. The not-good-part of the day. But it was okay. Before we called it a day, we bought some mochi dessert filled with melon, blueberry, strawberry, peach, and apple. And I, found this candy cane stall, got a blue, soda flavoured candy. You know what, this candy reminded me a lot of gulali, Indonesian traditional candy.
We parted, Jason and Danny walked to Kuwana eki direction, and Joe and I walked to Umamichi eki direction. Arrived at home, I was hungry and I could not help any longer to eat the big sushi I bought earlier that day. How did I eat it? Not as what I was supposed to eat. I could not eat the whole sushi, so I cut the sushi into pieces and shared it with my husband. "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" There was never a demon in our place though. And we are blessed.