Driving out Demons” matsuri, My journey:
Driving out Demons: last Sunday, January 31st, was a beautiful sunny winters day here in Kyoto. It was also the start of the setsubun (節分) matsuri season, different events will be held on February second and third. Iwashimizu Hachiman-gū (石清水八幡宮) in Yawata City, Kyoto Prefecture is holding their annual Oni yarai hito (鬼やらい人) or “driving out demons” today. Since I live along the Kizugawa River, I cycled to the venue and then hiked up on Mt. Otokoyama to the festival site. By the way, the steps are steep, although there is an easier way. A more lenient slope or a cable car from the nearby Yawatashi Station on the Keihan line. I got there about 2 hours in advance and already some prime spots had been taken.
Chronological order of the “Driving out Demons” matsuri:
After Shinto priest and staff had gathered themselves in front of the Honden (本殿) during the Driving out Demons ceremony, the sacred peach bow was figuratively shot towards the four lucky directions (northeast, southeast and southwest, northwest) and this year’s lucky direction south-southeast. This was followed by striking a budding peach branch in the same directions.
Then four “demons – (Oni yarai hito – 鬼やらい人) enter the grounds shouting and trying to scare the kids. The demons then tried to overrun the Shinto clergy, who defended themselves by throwing “Lucky beans (Fukumame – 福豆)” at them while shouting “ Demons out! Luck in!” (鬼は外! 福は内! Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!).
The demons were driven out and then the real fun started, “Lucky beans (Fukumame – 福豆)”, where being thrown towards the eagerly awaiting crowd.
History of Iwashimizu Hachiman-gū:
Iwashimizu Hachiman-gū is like a fortress on a hill with a scenic view of the Yawata area. The shrine was founded in 859 by the monk Gyōkyō (行教) and is dedicated to “Hachiman” the god of war. The present Honden (本殿) was built by the third shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, in 1634.
Many Emperors and Shogun’s visited here to pray for success in the many battles they fought. Until this day the Iwashimizu Hachiman-gū is one of the three most important Hachiman shrines in Japan. It was also the head shrine of the Minamoto clan. Minamoto no Yorinobu, in 1046 as governor of Kawachi, began worship at the Iwashimizu Hachiman-gū Shrine.
Iwashimizu Hachiman-gū has an interesting connection to the life and work of Thomas Edison, who used bamboo collected from the groves at the shrine by his assistant William H. Moore to make filaments for his first electric light bulb in 1880.
Driving out Demons or Setsubun matsuri in Japan:
Setsubun (節分) is the day before the beginning of spring in Japan. The name literally means “seasonal division”, but usually the term refers to the Spring Setsubun, properly called Risshun (立春) celebrated yearly on February 3 as part of the Spring Festival (春祭). In its association with the Lunar New Year, Spring Setsubun can be and was previously thought of as a sort of New Year’s Eve, and so was accompanied by a special ritual to cleanse away all the evil of the former year and drive away disease-bringing evil spirits for the year to come. This special ritual is called mamemaki (豆撒き) (literally “bean scattering”). Setsubun has its origins in tsuina (追儺), a Chinese custom introduced to Japan in the eighth century. See all pictures here!