Chasing Away Evil Spirits.

February 3rd is the last day of winter according to the lunar calendar. It’s called “Setsubun” (Parting of the Seasons). In the evening of this day, a religious rite called “Mamemaki” (Bean Throwing) is observed in most Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples throughout the country. This was originally one of the Shinto rites, though in the past the rite was performed in the house.

The devils or goblins are “O-NE” in Japanese. “O-NE’s” appear in many Japanese folk tales and usually have one or two horns on their head, fangs, and wear only a tiger-skin loincloth. “O-NE’s” are actually symbolized figures that represent disasters, epidemics, or supernatural phenomenon that are beyond human control. On the day of “Setsubun” you will hear one cry “O-NE wa soto, Fuku wa uchi” (Go away evil spirits, Come in good fortune.”

For this ceremony, people such as sumo wrestlers, noted actors, and politicians are invited to scatter parched (or roasted) soybeans. Usually those who are born under the particular sign of the Zodiac for the year throw beans. These bean throwers are commonly called “Toshi-Otoko”  (Year Men) and “Toshi-On’na” (Year Women). Huge crowds gather to watch them perform the rite and try to catch beans. You have to eat as many beans as your age, plus one, to stay happy, healthy, and safe for a year! The extra bean is to cover this year because you get one year older sometime within the coming year.

People of the unlucky ages- 25 and 42 for men, 19 and 33 for women- will wrap beans that are in the same number of their age with coins in a white paper. This packet is thrown away at the crossroads so that evil spirits may be thrown away along with it. It’s believed to keep people from harm during their critical/unlucky year!

According to the priest at the temples and the shrines, anyone who wishes to throw beans can do it. Moreover, today’s “Setsubun” is not only a religious ceremony, but also observed more to amuse children. The bean throwers often mix candy with the beans and throw them for the benefit of children. People who are acting as “O-NE’s”  (Goblins) or “Fuku” (Happiness) wear the paper masks to disguise them. The “O-NE’s” are expected to leave the room when beans are thrown at them.

I had the awesome opportunity to visit the Miyajidake Shrine in Sasebo on February 3rd to observe a “Mamemaki” (bean throwing) rite and catch some beans. After the rite was performed, we toasted mochi (pounded rice cakes) on a bonfire, which we then put them into zenzai (sweet bean soup).

*The bonfire that we saw was the burning of ornaments from Japanese homes. Every year, for the first 7 days, the Japanese hang an ornament (looks like straw weaved together with a paper lightning bolt hanging from it) in their doorways. On this night, they take it down and bring this ornament to the festival to be burned. *

Miyajidake Shrine.
Miyajidake Shrine.
The sticks the priest uses during the rite for purification.
The sticks the priest uses during the rite for purification.
Usually the public are not allowed to touch them, but the priests allowed it this time!!
Usually the public are not allowed to touch them, but the priests allowed it this time!!
Me with the "princess" who is in the rite. The mask is Happiness.
Me with the “princess” who is in the rite. The mask is Happiness.
An English explanation of our walking tour as to what we would be doing and how the rite goes.
An English explanation of our walking tour as to what we would be doing and how the rite goes.
Inside of the shrine (we got to sit inside the shrine, up the stairs).
Inside of the shrine (we got to sit inside the shrine, up the stairs).
I was front and center!! Perfect photo op!
I was front and center!! Perfect photo op!
Priest and the "demon."
Priest and the “demon.”
Princesses.
Princesses.
Opening part of the rite. Getting ready for purification with the stick.
Opening part of the rite. Getting ready for purification with the stick.
Purification process.
Purification process.
Demon dance.
Demon dance.

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Shooting a bow and arrow as part of the rite. He shoots branches around in a circle. They do not go but maybe a couple inches in front of him. He grunts each time he shoots one and then bows after.
Shooting a bow and arrow as part of the rite. He shoots branches around in a circle. They do not go but maybe a couple inches in front of him. He grunts each time he shoots one and then bows after.
Girls beginning their purification dance. (The leaves/branches mean purification as well).
Girls beginning their purification dance. (The leaves/branches mean purification as well).

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Presenting branches to the people who were born with the zodiac sign of the year (horse).
Presenting branches to the people who were born with the zodiac sign of the year (horse).
Placing their branches in front of the alter on a bench and praying. (How close we were to alter!)
Placing their branches in front of the alter on a bench and praying. (How close we were to alter!)

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They were the same people who were the bean throwers.
They were the same people who were the bean throwers.
Throwing the beans out in the crowd.
Throwing the beans out in the crowd.
They threw handfuls of bean packets right at us!! Landed all over!
They threw handfuls of bean packets right at us!! Landed all over!
Getting our mochi cakes to roast by the fire.
Getting our mochi to roast by the fire.
Mochi stuck on a bamboo stick.
Roasting mochi on a bamboo stick.
Gathered around the bonfire.
Gathered around the bonfire.
Lighting of the fire.
Lighting of the fire.

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We put the mochi in the bean soup and eat! yummm!!!
We put the mochi in the bean soup and eat! yummm!!!
All of the beans that I caught at the rite! I don't think that bad luck will be visiting me any time this year!!
All of the beans that I caught at the rite! I don’t think that bad luck will be visiting me any time this year!!

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Lindsay View All →

Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!

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