Home Holidays Setsubun — Welcoming Spring in Japan

Setsubun — Welcoming Spring in Japan

written by Traipsing Terra February 3, 2016

If you have ever worked as a teacher or lived in Japan, you know they celebrate some pretty unique holidays. You also probably know that they celebrate these holidays all over, in schools and even in grocery stores. During the past year I have celebrated quite a few holidays that we don’t have back in the US. Today was my favorite for some reason. Leading up to today I didn’t really know what Setsubun was. I knew it had something to do with demons, as we made these adorable demon hats out of paper bowls with our class. They looked so cute!

So what is Setsubun? Here is my guide for you to enjoy Setsubun, whether you are in Japan or not. Setsubun is the celebration of the end of winter and the beginning of spring. (Japanese and Chinese people both have many holidays that celebrate the coming and goings of seasons, which I really love) But there is more to the celebration, and this has to do with the story of Setsubun.

The story is about a farmer and his daughter. Many men wanted to marry the daughter, but the farmer said they had to lift a special rock. No man could do it until the day this very big strong man came to ask for her hand. To everyone’s surprise he lifted the stone over his head and carried the daughter away. The farmer followed the man to find his daughter. When he found them inside a cave he saw that the man is not a man at all but a demon.

Many demons were in the cave circling the daughter and drinking lots of sake. As they sang and danced, becoming more and more drunk, the daughter sang a beautiful song and lulled them to sleep. The father had been waiting and listening, and as soon as the demons fall asleep, he grabbed his daughter. They took a magical club and smashed it on the ground, which magically transported them back to their village. When the demons saw their bride was gone they ran to the village, but the father heard the demons talking about their fears: holly, which could cut their eyes, fish heads because of the smell, and soy beans. So the villagers threw their beans at the demons and chased them away.

So what does this story mean to the celebration of Setsubun? Well, each year people re-enact this story. Some people dress with demon masks and chase people who throw beans at them, chanting “Demons out! Good luck in!” Essentially, this is a way of starting the new spring with good luck and chasing the demons away.

On many levels it is very poetic and fun for the kids. People will often go to their local shrines for ceremonies on Setsubun. But for the kids at my school today, it was an excuse to throw things, sing songs, and listen to a very old tale. Oh, and they make funny looking baked beans that the kids all get as dessert after lunch. And for me, it was a day to learn about a new holiday, and see all my class in their cute hats.

What you need to celebrate Setsubun: A demon mask (hand made is perfect), and some beans.

Have you celebrated Setsubun? How did you celebrate?


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