Today, February the 3rd, was the day of the Setsubun Festival which we visited at Kitano tenman-gu. Setsubun literally means ‘seasonal division’, and it celebrates the passage from winter into spring. The most famous custom of Setsubun is the Mame-maki, or Bean Throwing, where people throw dried beans at people dressed in oni masks or out the door to purify the house and bring good luck in for the new year. Lately, this practice has become uncommon among households, and most people go to temples or shrines to celebrate the event.
If one wishes to see the main event of Setsubun in Kitano tenman-gu, which takes place on a stage, you should go an hour earlier to get a good spot. Many people will be there, including national tourists and professional photographers, and the fight for a good picture can sometimes get intense. The festival first starts with an introduction, including a story about Setsubun, then a play takes place. Two male priests and a procession of miko – temple girls – parade around the stage, singing a traditional Japanese song. The priest and miko chant, and there enters into the stage an oni, dressed in colorful clothes. Next, another man enters; a laughing man who represents fuku, or good luck. At the end, the priests chase the oni around the stage, throwing beans and chanting the phrase, ‘Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi’. This means, ‘Demons out, luck in,’. This ends the first act.
The second act is that of a troupe of Gei Miko, or miko, who dress in beautiful kimonos and do traditional Japanese dances. After the dances, the miko and priests take trays of packets full of beans and throw the to the crowd – this starts a furious struggle of people trying to grab one of the bags. It is said that you will have luck for the rest of the year if you manage to catch a bag.
After the festival is done, you will find that the rest of the temple is beautiful, too, with numerous ume trees – plum trees – and cow statues which people touch to get good luck. All of the buildings are magnificent representations of Japanese history, and you won’t be bored as you walk around the expansive grounds.