Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Setsubun and Chinese New Year

So, today is the Chinese New Year! Happy New Year to all ! (again). Good that I have not yet acted on any of my New Year Resolutions, pfew! :-)

It's also time for Setsubun here in Japan. For some strange reason, this bizarre chasing-demon-out celebration holds a special place in my heart. Maybe it's because it is all so..... magical and silly in a way. But also optimistic, full of new hope for the upcoming spring and new beginnings.

Roasted soya beans
Literaly, Setsubun means "division of the seasons" and it marks the end of the winter according to the lunar calendar. It usually falls either on February 3 or 4 (which is a bit early for ending the winter if you ask me, but well). On the evening of Setsubun, one must throw roasted soybeans inside and outside the house while repeating "Fortune in, devils out"! so as to invite good luck inside the house and chase the bad luck out.Typically, the oldest male of the house has to wear a demon (Oni) mask and the children chase him while throwing roasted soybeans at him.You are also supposed to eat the same number of soybeans as your age. Needless to say, Bibu has already failed at this point, as he has already eaten his roasted soybean bag that he got at school. I ate a few ones, but cannot remember how many....wonder if there is room for liberalism in this point.

Another practice from recent years it to eat a "Ehoo-maki" or giant sushi-roll filled with shiitake mushroom, cucumber, eel and so on. For good luck, one must eat it facing the "happy direction" while keeping quiet. I asked my Japanese teacher yesterday about this "happy direction" and she mentioned it changes every year and this year it is "south-south-west", as determined by the monks of the main shinto shrine in Japan.

So today I went for a walk in Jiyugaoka and bought a couple of these Ehoo-makis for Bibu and for me (Mr M has an office get-together tonight so will miss on the Setsubun fun. My maki is a traditional one and for Bibu I got one filled with tonkatsu. not very setsubun-ish but he will definitely eat that one. Mr M has more or less figured out the "happy direction" from our dining room, so we will be facing it at dinner. Not too confident that we will achieve the "eating it while keeping quiet" bit, but hopefully that's not the crucial point, hehe.

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