A Mean Bean Throwing Time

It is now the day after the beans. The day after Setsubun, the day after we threw out those yucky oni,  the Japanese word for a kind of ogre or demon. Boy, was it fun. We had geared-up for it. We were prepared to kick out the bad, say, “Adios, jerks” to those oni and “Come in, right this way, please”, to all the blessings, to everything from  God. Setsubun is for me, getting fired-up, as you fiercely love your family, love your God and all of your blessings. I hurl those beans with resolve and a little more muscle than is needed. Maybe this is my own alternative to the Superbowl. (I think my girl takes after me in that. One night, while dictating the writing in her Daddy-Daughter journal, she tearfully confessed something. She bit a teacher who was dressed as an oni. I guess that’s asking for it, pre-school teacher).


The grocery store manager. Kariin was NOT happy to see that he had been so near her brother.

Certainly, the grocery stores and tiny markets supprt the yearly pastime, too. Special rolls filled with dozens of goodies, all swathed in nori, line the shelves. Bean this, bean that. Crackers, cookies, all treats to celebrate Setsubun. Image                    Before leaving school yesterday, she took her Setsubun things home: her little horned-oni crown, an origami box she stamped for holding those crunchy beans, and a little cut & paste oni craft. She skipped home, singing a giddy song–something in Japanese about oni pants being the best pants to wear. Image                        We don’t celebrate each Japanese custom, but this one is so great! It is Buddhist in background, and many people throughout Japan head to the temple, or jinja. We actually did this year–first time. My husband came home early (big treat in itself!) and told us how something was going on at the jinja. We served him his dinner and shuffled-out midway through his dish of rice, beef croquette, and garlicky green beans. The evening was unseasonably warm and crisp.

“Come on! You don’t need socks,” Isaac called to me. He was right; the air was delicious and as I scooped-up my three year-old girl, also without socks–just shoes, she wriggled happy feet and squealed, “It feels so good!” We giggled and rubbed our noses together. It felt like the beginnings of fall, father than the day before spring. Yes, I know–we Westerners know early February is still, definitely spring. Over here, in Japan, this Spring Setsubun heralds spring. An East Asian calendar is much different. There are 24 terms, or rishun. Each one is divided into three terms. Okay, this is a little too “mathy” and it seems I could almost introduce a home made pie chart using paper plates and a metal brad.

Anyway. Back to the poetry:

I felt the little surge that comes from so many families being out in the narrow streets, walking under the gates of the temple, taking in the tall trees, and the “oldness” of this place, Japan. It seemed a night for fireflies. Turns out, we missed it. Everyone was clearing-out from the old wooden temple. Kids ran past with goody bags. A woman inside the temple swept and we spied the priest in his white gowns, cleaning up. Another man saw us, though, and said, “Wait one sec.” He came out with major goods for our girl–piles of snacks and fukumame, roasted lucky soybeans, for throwing at the oni. We raced back home and got to work. First Kariin and Daddy were the oni. Her little doll wore the fuku, or lady-luck, mask.


please ignore the fact that dolls can look so creepy, as it is, without a mask.

They stomped, stomped, while we chucked hard, dry beans at them. “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” Oni, out! Blessings, in! Then we switched and Auntie Kenzie, Baby Boy, and I stomped towards them and the front door. Baby giggled as I lurched towards his sister, roaring. Kariin was a bit scared, but she certainly laughed through it and hurled her beans with strength. Seems this is a good festival for drawing strength, for laughing through a fear as you throw out that ogre and banish him forever…or until next year when you remind him that only blessings are permitted inside your home.


Fuku vs the gross oni. He doesn’t stand a chance.

Karin and her daddy swept up the beans from our steps and the bean trail that rolled down the length of our driveway. The dogs helped, eating their share of soybeans. Isaac went back to his dinner while I circled the block with the dogs. That buzz was still in the air. I passed homes where I heard elderly couples throwing beans and chanting, “Oni wa soto. Fuku wa uchi.” Again and again, as if they were bowing or praying. It is so rhythmic. “Fuku uchi fuku uchi fuku uchi“, past another doorway, an older woman alone. Past giggling siblings and little feet running. Later, on my balcony, I heard more, as husbands who’d come home late were now chanting. It was a sweet day, a gorgeous night, and one very beautiful-making-room for the new buds of spring. Out with the old, in with the new. “Tata” to letting the bad habits take root. “Sayonara” to letting weeds stay and uproot our greens. We stand our ground and chuck these little soybeans.  Take that, ya jerk!