In Japan, there are traditionally 24 divisions of season. The literal meaning of Setsubun is "division of seasons" and marks the end of the coldest season "Daikan" (mentioned in the post "Water Purification"). So, Setsubun is to welcome Risshun which means "spring begins".
At Kashima Jingu, crowds gather in the afternoon. A large stage is erected next to the "Heiden" - the main building for worship. Mascots of the local soccer team, the "Antlers" were on hand to entertain the people until the main event. Kashima means "deer island" and deer are also an important symbol in Shinto, thus the team name and their connection to the shrine. City officials and Shinto priests, along with the mascots, filled the large stage and after prayers and the usual political yak-yak, they all began trowing small packets of roasted soybeans to the crowd. Unfortunately, my digital camera's batteries gave out just before that. A repeat performance of this took place in the evening at which actual team members of the Antlers came on stage to throw the packets. That always draws an even bigger crowd as the soccer players are very popular.
What is so special about roasted soybeans? Well, there is a fable that goes with this celebration. In it, a demon or ogre, "oni" in Japanese, disguises himself as a human and goes to a widow's house. He uses a magic mallet to fashion a beautiful kimono and the woman decides to try and trick him getting him drunk and take both the kimono and the mallet from him. But the demon sees through this and reveals his true self to her. She is so frightened, she starts throwning soybeans at him and he runs away, taking his mallet and the kimono with him. On the packet of "fukumame" pictured here, you can see depictions of the woman throwing beans and the demon running away.
So, after getting soybeans at the shrine (or store) people go home and throw them in a mock battle with demons. You take some beans in hand, open the front door and throw them shouting "Oni wa Soto"! - Demons Out!, then you turn around and throw some beans into the house shouting "Fuku wa Uchi" - Happiness in the house! You then repeat this in each room of the house (soybeans everywhere). I asked K if we should do the bathroom, and she said her family usually didn't. However, I remembered a story a friend had recently told me. He had made up a story for his 9 year old daughter who wanted to know why their bathroom door was always kept closed. He told her it was because the "demon of drowned poop" lived there. (The girl's reply was "bushwah"!) I told K about it and laughing, she opened the door and I threw beans in there as well.
At dinner we ate one soybean for every year of our age plus one. It is said to keep you from catching cold. In fact this bean throwing tradition has its origins in China where it was done to ward off disease (represented by the demons) and welcome the spring.
Because it is done to bring happiness, the soybeans are called "fukumame" - happiness beans.
A house near the shrine had a holly twig attached to the front door. As I looked more closely I saw that there was a large sardine head stuck on the twig! It is also to ward off demons. It sure kept me away.
Another custom at Setsubun is called "ehomaki"- or lucky direction sushi roll. On Setsubun, one is supposed to sit facing the direction south-south-east (it changes each year) while eating an entire sushi roll and no talking is allowed as you are supposed to be concetrating on your wish. This will supposedly give you good luck in business, health, and making your wish come true. This is actually a custom of western Japan, but 7-11 stores are advertising it across the country.
K, who grew up here refers to it as "sushi roll" while I, coming from the US, but a community with a large population of people of Japanese heritage, learned to call it "maki-zushi". Same thing, but it seems odd that a Japanese would use the English name and an American would use the Japanese.
Sushi is very popular world wide now, but if you are not familiar, Maki-zushi is made with sushi rice, rolled around various foods, in this case seasoned kampyo (gourd strips), denbu (sweet powder), sweet omelet, cucumber, and immitation crab, wrapped in nori - a thin sheet made from dried seaweed. I got the hang of making it from helping in the temple kitchens on Maui, as this food is commonly sold as a fund raiser.
If you'd like to make your own maki-zushi, here's how: Making Sushi Roll.
In the morning there are lots of beans on the floor of the house. In old days people use to eat them. I prefer the vacuum cleaner approach. There are so many customs and beliefs in Japan revolving about coaxing the gods to bestow luck, money, health and so on, and myths and legends to go with them, that I decided I would add one of my own. Seeing all the fukumame on the floor, I decided we must have been visited by the "Setsubunny" who left them there - a Shinto version of the Easter Bunny. Why not? It just might catch on.