Friday, January 30, 2009

Spring Setsubun: Winter's End

Spring setsubun is the traditional Japanese observance of the last day of winter and the coming of spring. Setsubun means "division of season". While each of the four seasons has its setsubun, the spring setsubun, "setsubun risshun", is the the only one which is a major celebration because it marks the arrival of the lunar new year.

Setsubun risshun is a time for cleaning the house, eating special foods, and the symbolic purification of the home by the ceremony of "mame- maki", or bean throwing. The head of each household stands in the doorway and casts roasted soybeans ("iri mame") onto the ground to drive out demons and bring good luck. The participants chant " Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" "Demons out! Good fortune in!" It is also traditional to eat one roasted soybean for each year of one's life, then adding one more to symbolize long life.

Although most North Americans do not consider early February the beginning of spring, in Northern California there are many signs that winter is over. The days are quickly gaining more daylight, the air is milder, and if one looks carefully in certain neighborhoods of San Francisco, the magnolia and plum trees are already blooming. The season has divided yet again. Winter is over. Time to count and savor your roasted soybeans. Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!