Shinto: Go beans for Setsubun and eat up for good luck

It’s customary on Setsubun to eat as many soybeans as years you are old. Photo in public domainFRIDAY, FEBRUARY 3: Dig those dried beans out of the pantry today—and if you’re in the mood for good luck, keep reading to learn more about the Shinto Japanese holiday of Setsubun!

Today’s ancient festival involves the throwing of beans, the casting off of evil spirits and some tasty recipes to finish the day. Setsubun also marks the last day of winter in the Japanese lunar calendar, and devotees view today as a time for cleansing for the coming “New Year.” (Wikipedia has details.) By cooking previously hard beans into something digestible and delicious, participants believe they have the power to conquer evil spirits in the same way; by also decorating their homes with symbolic foods and (occasionally) throwing hard beans out the door, they drive away evil spirits before the first day of spring.

At Buddhist and Shinto shrines today, priests often throw soybeans into a crowd, along with envelopes of money and candy; in some places, celebrities join the festivities and attendees scramble to pick up the prizes like children rushing to a broken piñata. Today, the dense population of some urban areas requires people to take this activity to a shrine, since having thousands of people throwing beans out their windows on a city street would be messy and potentially dangerous. (Get the current scoop from the Japan Times.)

Over a customary drink of ginger sake, some Setsubun participants will be enjoying the sights of disguised or cross-dressing geisha, as Setsubun has long been considered an “in between time” that lingers between the old year and the coming year (role reversal was more widely practiced among previous generations). Still, everyone can get in on the fun at the Kaiyukan Aquarium in Osaka, where divers dressed up like “oni,” or ogres from Japanese folklore, will be posing for photographs.

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