Sunday, 3 February 2008

節分 The Bean Throwing Festival

I had yet again the chance to participate in a very interesting and nice traditional Japanese festival originating in Shinto religion. But when I opened my apartment door on the morning of that day, all was white. For the first time, since my arrival in Atsugi snow has fallen and stayed on the ground. I rejoiced and looked forwards to going to the Shrine now even more.
If it wouldn't have been for the festival, I would have asked Hong Lun to build a snowman with me, but maybe we find time for that another day (the next day the snow was gone though).
However once I went back into my room, I found Emails in my mailbox from my friends complaining: "There is some strange white stuff out there, I will not go." "It is cold outside, I will not go" "Mika, the wheather is sooo bad, I don't want to go".
*sigh* Some people miss some dreaming here! For the first time (for us) snow has transformed grey clad Atsugi in a wonderful white new world. And that is what I replied, I did not tell them to go, but that I would even more look forward to go with all the snow! And so one by one they succumbed to their inner dreaming child and agreed to go! Thus five people started to the station and set course for the Jinja (shrine) in 伊勢原 Isehara, because it had a special event scheduled: The priests invited four famous Sumo Rikishi to participate in the religious practices. That seems normal in Japan, where the gap between priests and people seems not as deep as in Christianity.
日々他神社 Hibitajinja is quite high on a plateau rising up to mount 大山 Ooyama. Although we were the only ones in the bus, the shrine was really well visited.

Snow Snow! Real Snow!

節分 Setsubun

Hibita Shrine in Isehara

The Setsubun festival includes a lot of fun activities, which makes it especially attractive for children, but as elderly people told me at the festival: It is no less fun for grown ups.
In a first part beans seem to fulfill three purposed:

1. You eat as many beans, as you are years old.
2. You throw as many beans, as you are years old, at demon.
3. You throw as many beans, as you are old, in your room at home.

This is especially important and powerful if the current Chinese Zodiac year is a cycle year for you, that means the year has the same zodiac than your birth year (12 - 24 - 36 - 48 - ...).

this year is the year of the rat

It did not match any of our ages, but we did as described anyway. So after counting and eating beans:

1 ... 2 ... 3... 23

we waited for the demons. This is one of the central points of the festival. Before the demons appear a vast amount of Shinto priests would enter the inner sanctum of the shrine and start a prayer / ceremony. The first attraction was of course seeing Sumo Rikishi clothed in Shinto priest garments walking side by side with the priests looking like giants between ants. They entered the inner sanctum and joined the ceremony naturally.

Shinto priests

together with Sumo Rikishi

entering the shrine for prayer

The suddenly a big Gong was to be heard and from the temple emerged two hideous screaming creatures in bright colors. We started throwing beans at them, the traditional way to chase away demons from the temple, from our home, from our city and our hearts. So the demons fled in terror out of the temple and the people rejoiced.

The demons came

threatened us with clubs

and then disappointed and depressed that no one was scarred left the shrine

When it is cold, you make a fire

people anticipating ...

.. the coming of the priests and Sumo Rikishi

and they cameth and throweth tha beans

and tha golden coins unto tha people

We weren't sure if it was over by that, but the people stayed and eagerly stayed and starred at wooden stage, which started to fill with Shinto priests, the Sumo Rikishi and some of the wives or mothers. They would scream some phrases, hard to understand for me, and the people joined in. Then they started throwing things into the crowd. Little sacks with beans and something wrapped in white cloth. The sacks are probably the beans for your room at home, but what was inside the white cloth. I supposed a kind of お守り Omamori (a lucky charm) and tried to get one. Easier said then done, because the people no matter the aged jumped at those tiny white bags even if they would get all dirty or lie in the mud. Old ladies proofed our fiercest enemy, it was almost impossible to be faster quicker and more ruthless then they. But eventually we would also get hold of one, two or some even of three. Woo!

We made ready to leave, when we saw people lining up for something. Oh apparently you can trade your white bags for something else. Then we realized that the people all held small gold coins in their hands. So we opened the white bags and found the same kind of gold coins inside. They are called 小判 Koban (little gold coin). After waiting for a while, we saw people trading the 小判 for lottery papers. Oh so we could win something? When I got my two lots I realized that every lot is a winner. What a nice idea! No one looses. Once opened the lots contained all kind of useful prices from toilet paper to noodles and soy sauce. There was also a big price: A mountain bike.


Hong Lun,



and me taking lottery lots

I got のり Nori (the sea weed wrap for Sushi and Onogiri) and a flower. Wendy, our Chinese intern, furthermore gave me her 納豆 Natto (fermented soy beans). Nobody of us got the bike, but all got nice and useful stuff. Youngki even got beer and Hong Lun Sake.

And thus people returned to their homes ladden, like having been to a super market, but having had a great time with chasing demons and grabbing gold coins!

Practicing jumping and grabbing for next year

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