Monday, February 4, 2013

Setsubun @ Naritasan-fudoson Temple in Osaka

Many people are familiar with setsubun in Japan where the beginning of spring is celebrated with its mamemaki (bean throwing ceremonies) and cries of Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! (Devil get out! Good luck in!). There are many local variations of the ceremony within Japan and I was able to see this yesterday at two different locations. The first was the mamemaki celebrated at the Naritasan-fudoson temple in Neyagawa-shi, Osaka. This temple is a branch of the Shingon sect Naritasan Shinshoji temple located in Chiba prefecture. Naritasan is associated with the Buddha figure Fudo and monk Kobo Daishi. Naritasan in Osaka provides the good luck amulets found on all Keihan Railway Company trains and buses. One difference in the Naritasan celebration is that peanuts were thrown to the participants rather than the more common soy beans. The event featured local dignitaries, kabuki actors, geisha and even a sumo wrestler throwing peanuts out to the assembled crowd, many of whom held up paper and plastic bags to get as many peanuts as possible. As it was very crowded I was only able to get into the entrance of the square constructed for the event. I had a height advantage but as soon as the peanuts started raining down the bags people held got in the way. I got one single peanut as it landed on top of my camera. But I was able to get some nice shots capturing brilliant colors on a sunny, warm day.


My second experience was at the shrine near my home. Outside the shrine is a schedule of events and a setsubun festival was listed. However it turned out that there was no bean throwing ceremony and only the Board of Directors of the Shrine were present. I asked them why there was no mamemaki and they laughed and advised me to go to Naritasan (they were amused to hear that I had been there earlier in the day). A shinto priest conducted a brief ritual inside the shrine itself. There were about 10 older men present; it did not seem to be an occasion to take photographs.

At home we performed some of the traditional setsubun celebrations. I received one traditional makizushi roll from one of the men at my local shrine (purchased at an expensive sushi restaurant) and we bought two modern (foreigner-friendly?) rolls at a nearby supermarket - roast beef and grilled beef replaced the usual seven lucky ingredients. The traditional roll tasted much better than the modern ones.

The custom, originating in the Kansai area,  is to eat the makizushi without speaking in a specified direction that changes every year. But how is one supposed to know what direction to eat towards? These days we have the benefit of a special iPhone app; a makizushi pointer shows us the way.

More examples of local variations and modern changes in Japanese culture.

See also: ASAHI SHIMBUN PHOTO ESSAY: Purification festival brings out the bean catchers

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