Bebe Taian: Setsubun is here!

February 3, 2012

Setsubun is here!

... and I worked straight through it.

There's an outfit that I keep talking about wearing, but I have to alter my juban to wear it. I'm wary of altering Taisho silks, so I'm trying to get a modern one that I won't feel bad about cutting new sleeves for.

Setsubun is a day of dressing up in costume! It's immensely fun. Liza Dalby talked about dressing up as a geisha on that day, back in the 70s. Technically, she was working as a geisha, but since she was only an anthropologist, it was acceptable because she was not *really* a geisha. Some dress up as kabuki characters, or other famous characters in history. Men may dress as women (although, this was once much more widely practiced in daily life a few hundred years ago), and old women may wear younger hairstyles, or vice-versa. Geisha still practice this custom with their clients today!

The name properly means "seasonal division", and is one day before the first of the nijuushi sekki, "Risshun" (Beginning of Spring), which falls between Feb. 2-4th according to the lunisolar calender. Even though it has been long-celebrated, Setsubun is not considered to be a national holiday. Setsubun is sort of a New Years' Eve, marking the end of the old season, and starting a new one.

On this day, cleansing rituals are performed. A long time ago, burning dried sardine heads was thought to be a sort of incense that would drive away evil. Certainly, it must have driven away people! Others would decorate doorways with fish heads and holy tree leaves, as well as special ropes, in order to achieve the same effect. Fasting and other rituals are practiced, and vary from place to place.

Today, it is usually only the mamemaki ritual of throwing roasted beans around the house and out the doors, chanting "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" (Devils out! Happiness in!) before picking up and eating the number of beans which corresponds to your age. Some areas eat this plus one, to ensure continuance for one extra year. The person who does the throwing is traditionally a male who is born of the animal of that lunar year (this year, the Dragon). If this person does not exist, the male head of household, or today, any head of household, will throw the beans. Some will dress as oni while throwing the beans! It's a very fun ritual, although increasingly, people are attending the ritual at shrines instead of doing it at home. Obviously, there would be a lot of work to do if you had to clean beans up from your house and front steps.

Shougazake (ginger sake) and ehomaki (a special sushi roll approx. 20cm long) are special foods to eat on this day. If one can eat an entire ehomaki by oneself, while completely silent throughout and while sitting and facing a particular lucky direction (the direction of the animal of that year), then one will have exceptionally good luck and good health! Historically, this practice started in the Kansai area, and spread outwards.

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