Today (3 February) is Setsubun (節分) in Japan, the day before the start of spring and a day in which it is traditional to cast out the devil and encourage good luck for the year ahead. This is celebrated in many ways throughout the country.
One of the most popular is to gather at a local shrine for mamemaki where small packets of roasted soya beans will be thrown in to the waiting crowds to cries of Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi (‘Out with the devil, in with good luck’) and the more beans you can catch the greater your luck (or so they say). At the more famous shrines, the bean tossing is often carried out by well-known sportspeople such as sumo wrestlers dressed in traditional garb, as well as TV personalities or minor celebrities (known, incongruously, as talent-o in Japanese).
My local small shrine at Yoyogi Hachiman does not warrant such exalted attention, but the crowds gathered there all the same for the ceremony. This is taken very seriously, and as they waited I could see people demonstrating their catching techniques while others were content to hold open large carrier bags to collect the lucky beans.
A safety talk preceded the event, and then to a drum roll on the traditional taiko drums,
the line-up of local officials and politicians assembled on the podium and were introduced to the crowd before they launched the lucky packets.
It seemed to me that the older and smaller one was, the more determined one became in trying to grab a piece of seasonal luck; for once Japanese traditional decorum and discipline were abandoned. Perhaps Eddie Jones, the former coach of the Japanese ‘Brave Blossoms’ rugby team who did so well in last year’s World Cup, should draw some lessons from the scrum techniques of Yoyogi’s Grappling Grannies, as he now hopes to take England to success in the forthcoming Six Nations Championship. Certainly they need more luck than I had today as I had to be content just with a few photos of this cultural curiosity.