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Friday, February 3, 2012

Devils Out, Good Luck in

So it's Groundhog Day in the USA (2/2) and Setsubun in Japan (2/3), for a few minutes at least, until it's not 2/2 in the US anymore.

You all know by now that Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow and there's six more weeks of winter. However, what do you know about Setsubun?

Well, I thought I knew this Japanese holiday well enough to make it my favorite one of the year. Someone in the village or in the family puts on a devil's mask (a cute, rather benign devil--more like an imp) and the rest of family pelts him with beans, shouting, "Devils out, good luck in!" Right? And you eat the number of beans that represents your age in years, right? And you eat rolled sushi, right?

Well, that's how we've always done it, but this year my husband decided to research the traditional and ancient custom online (bit of an irony there), and he discovered the purist's way to celebrate Setsubun. It seems that shrines recommend that if there is a person in the family whose Chinese Zodiac year it is (and it's the year of the dragon--if you were born this year, or if on your birthday this year you will turn 12 or any multiple of 12 (as in 24, 36, 48, etc) then you are a dragon and this is your year), that person is in charge of purifying the house of devils. Luckily, my older son is a dragon, so he was in charge. (If you don't have  dragon in the family, everyone shares the duties.) So my older boy had to go to each window and door in the house, open it up, and thrown beans out while yelling "Devils out, good luck in!" Which in Japanese is, "Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!"

But there was no dressing up as a devil and pelting one another, as we did in years past, taking turns as devils. We still get to eat makizushi (rolled sushi) though. I like it the old way better, which I guess is really the new way since the way we celebrated this year was the real old way. I'd better start campaigning right away for a return to the mask-wearing next year; I don't want to be a purist, at least not on Setsubun. And I'd better go sweep up the beans that have fallen around all the doors and windows in our house. Another benefit to our previous way of celebrating was that there was a single door around which beans needed to be cleaned up.

My family, last year, boys still in pajamas, celebrating Setsubun. No masks were worn this year; no pajamas either. My dragon son is holding a peanut, which we threw last year. Peanuts are an acceptable replacement for dried soy beans. Or they were, before we went purist.

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