Sunday, February 6, 2011


Setsubun is a bizarre festival in Japan. I know that calling a Japanese festival bizarre is redundant, but bear with me. Setsubun is the day before the beginning of Spring in Japan. It literally means, "seasonal division." Roasted soybeans are thrown at an Oni (demon or ogre), while the people say "Demons out! Luck in!" (鬼は外! 福は内!, Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!?). Although this is not common practice in households anymore, most people attend a shrine or temple's spring festival where this is done. I recently went to Setsubun.

I decided to go to Setsubun with Center of the Universe (Tenri) JETs. We hopped the bus from Tenri Station and walked about 10 minutes to Oyamato Shrine. We walked through the large gate and wandered onto the shrine's grounds. There was a large bonfire, so we gathered there for a moment to warm up. As I was warming my hands, I noticed an older woman walk up to the fire and throw a department store shopping bag into the fire. My first thought was, "Are people burning their garbage on sacred ground?" Turns out, there was stuff inside the bag. Though no explanation was given to me, I assume people burn things that bring bad luck or memories. Again, this is a guess.

The priests had set up a stand selling bags of soybeans. Each bag had a number in it that corresponded with a prize. I won a bag of potato chips. Yay. Another JET won an apple. Um...yay? When the ceremony started, we moved to the action. 2 priests were sitting on stage next to large drums. They said something in Japanese, hit the drum, and reacted as if horrified. The "demons" had arrived.

While standing in the small crowd, I heard, "Aaaaaaaaugh!" I was confused. "Aaaaaaaugh!" What the hell is that? "Aaaaaaaaaaugh!" Ah, holy crap! A demon!

A guy wielding a large club who was wearing a demon mask, fox ears, and leopard skin pants had been making his way through the crowd. Once he reached the stage, he started stomping around with his club. Sometimes, he would stop and pose for a picture. One (cruel) parent was holding her child up so he/she could see the demon. He/she started yelling, "Yaaaaaah, yaaaaaah!" In English, that means "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! NOOOOOOOOOO!" Adorable.

Another demon soon made his entrance. He did the same thing as the first. Now we had two "demons" stomping around the stage and posing. One of them even played "rock, paper, scissors" with the children in the front row. Those children were clearly fearless. When the stomping around started to get boring, our savior arrived! A man wearing very fancy priest-like clothing and a red mask with a LONG nose joined the fray. Using his fake spear, he "battled" the demons until they were defeated. Mostly, he just tapped his spear on the demons' shoulder and they SLOWLY laid on the ground.

Afterward, the priests and the "savior" tossed bags of soybeans at the crowd. I was out-pushed by an old lady who REALLY wanted more soybeans. Honestly...she can have them.

Before leaving the shrine, we spent a little bit more time near the bonfire. Here, I downed all my soybeans. They didn't taste that bad, really. It wasn't until after I finished eating them that I learned the actual tradition:

-Throw the beans at a demon (or oni)
-Eat the number of soybeans equal to your age + 1 while facing south-southeast
-Yell "Demons out! Luck in!" (鬼は外! 福は内!, Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!?)

I have some pretty fantastic pictures AND video of the event. They should be up in the next couple of days.


  1. Tell your Japanese friends that Jews have a demon chaser too. It is the Golem.

    Check out: The Golem
    A Jewish Legend

  2. Can't wait to see the photos and vid. Hopefully you captured the SLOW "fall of death" of the oni. That would be pretty hilarious.

    Also, I have just read that the long nosed saviour is the Tengu!