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Celebrate Setsubun

“Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!” “Out with the devil, in with good fortune!” Remember this phrase on February 3rd, the Japanese celebration of Setsubun. As opposed to the lunar New Year marking the cycle of the moon, Setsubun marks the completion of the sun’s 24-part cycle. Mid-winter is the perfect time to embrace a new sun, while anticipating the warmth and promise of spring.

Traditions for Setsubun have their roots deep in history, possibly beginning as early as the Ming Dynasty in China, and the Muromachi Era (1392-1573) in Japan. The most popular custom today for Setsubun is mame maki, or the scattering of beans. There are many places in and around Tokyo to

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enjoy Setsubun celebrations, the best being at large temples. Under bright mid-day skies at Asakusa’s Sensoji Temple, crowds watch a procession of priests and dignitaries carry black and white lanterns along the approach to the main stage. Young and old gather for the ritual of catching beans thrown from the temple’s veranda, as tradition tells this will bring good luck. Anything or everything is used to catch the lucky beans: people hold up hats, hands, jackets, zip lock bags, and even long fishing nets! After all the fuku mame have been scattered and caught, the crisp roasted soybeans are eaten; it is considered good fortune to eat the same number of beans as your age. The temples take on their usual lively atmosphere for Setsubun. In addition to providing the bean tossing fun, the temple grounds are full of festive stalls selling hot noodles, tasty treats, and colorful trinkets certain to brighten a child’s day.

Bring the celebration home by purchasing an inexpensive kit (available at local supermarkets) containing the oni mask and beans. A person born under the animal sign of the present year (2006 is the Year of the Dog) is called toshi otoko or onna, and traditionally gets the honor of scattering the beans. These days, however, everyone joins in the fun. Gather the family and banish the winter blues with this Japanese custom, and call good fortune loudly into your home. Welcome the new sun: Celebrate Setsubun!