At home we like to light lots of fireworks at the start of the new year to chase away the demons and evil for the year to come. Well, that’s where the tradition comes from, actually we do it because it’s colorful, noisy and fun. Well, in Japan they have a similar ritual on February 3rd, the day before the Lunar New Year: Setsubun. The Japanese like to throw soybeans out of their doors or even at each other, especially people wearing Oni (demon) masks. The mamemaki (bean scattering) is to drive away evil spirits from your house, and eating your age in soybeans is the way to get luck in instead. I didn’t really want to throw soy beans out of my apartment front door, basically because I didn’t really feel like cleaning up heaps of beans scattered about. Instead of doing the throwing, I decided to get thrown at. So Aiko (one of the Japanese teachers at our school) and I went to the Narita shrine here in Inuyama, where priests and celebrities throw bags of roasted soy beans and presents at the public. And if you’re lucky you’ll find a lucky ticket in your bag of beans which you can exchange for some price.
The bean throwing occurred 3 times with 2-hour intervals, and we actually took part in the Setsubun Matsuri (Bean throwing festival) twice, simply because we were still hanging out at the shrine when they started throwing again. The first time I didn’t catch anything, but I did grab one bag of the floor, which wasn’t easy if you don’t want people to jump on your hands. I was too busy trying to keep my balance in the middle of hundreds of pushing, jumping and shoving people, which really took me by surprise. I’m not used to wild and crazy Japanese people.
The second time I was prepared for this temporary madness so I could focus more on catching some beans. The ‘easy’ way is to just grab bags of the floor, but it was raining so the floor was wet and disgusting, besides the floor was crawling with people already and I wasn’t desperate. So I chose to stand up and try and literally catch some, and I was pretty good at it! I caught a present (a shrine towel), which I held in my left hand while I caught 5 bags of beans with just my right hand, and most importantly it was fun! I didn’t get a lucky ticket, but Aiko did, she won a can of iced coffee.
In between all the bean throwing fun, we hiked up the many stairs to do some shrine stuff. Like cleanse your hands with water, which I did wrong (of course). I emptied the big spoon of water right back into the pool with clean water instead of the special huge drain in front of my feet.
We also tried to increase our luck and health. First we threw a 5 yen coin (which apparently is a lucky coin) in a huge funnel, which probably ended at some priest’s huge piggy bank. Next, we inhaled as much incense smoke (smelled pretty good actually)as we could because it’s supposed to bring health and intelligence. Aiko said I looked very eager to get smarter.
If you pay a hundred yen you can take a small paper out of a big box filled with small papers and it will have your fortune for the coming year on it. Of course it’s all in Japanese, but it did have one English pharse: ‘Not-so-good fortune’. To me that sounds pretty dooming, but Aiko assured me that it was actually a pretty good one and that I need to wait a lot for people this year (?)… Oh and pray more at the shrine.
I was going to bring the paper home for Yasu to translate more thoroughly for me, but you’re supposed to tie your tiny paper to some rope outside. So I did. Maybe it’ll help turn my not-so-good fortune into a damn-good one?
And we had some nice udon noodles at the shrine. Aiko’s were soaked in curry (which I’m not a big fan of) and mine were covered in fish shavings which move in such a way that it looks like worms are crawling about in your bowl. I believe this lunch gave me the strength that I needed to improve my bean-catching skills ;).
I haven’t eaten my age in soybeans yet, but Yasu is coming to Inuyama tonight so I’ll share my beans with him and we’ll both eat our age in soybeans. The beans smell good, and I hope they taste good too, because 27 is a lot of beans.