Many people in the world have just celebrated the beginning of yet another new year, Lunar New Year, that started yesterday. In Chinese, the word 春節 literally means Spring Festival.
While in Japan, we got to experience a different custom related to spring that traces back to the 8th Century in China, which involves praying, burning and bean-throwing. During Setsubun (節分), among many others, rituals are performed to drive away the evils and bad spirits.
Traditionally, roasted soybeans (called "fortune beans" (福豆 fuku mame)) are thrown either out the door or at a member of the family wearing a demon (Oni in Japanese) mask, while people say "Demons out! Luck in!" (Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!) and slam the door. Then, as part of bringing in luck, it is customary to eat roasted soybeans in the number that corresponds to one’s age, and in some areas, one for each year of one's life plus one for bringing good luck for the year to come.
At Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines all over the country, Priests and invited guests will throw roasted soy beans (some wrapped in gold or silver foil), small envelopes with money, sweets, candies and other prizes. We had fun witnessing beans being thrown and the tactics used to catch them in the Shinto Shrine of Shimogamo-Jinja (下鴨神社). I mean, look at the “containers” they bring. One has to dream big to achieve big, I guess.
Every year, Setsubun occurs on the day before the beginning of spring, i.e., Risshun (立春). And coincidentally, this year, Risshun happens to be the day before Lunar New Year. So, whether it’s spring or Spring Festival that you are celebrating, I wish you lots of fortune beans. Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! :D
I reckon, I shall be back for the burning part later.