Happy Spring!

That’s right, today officially marks the last day of Old Man Winter’s evil reign over the forces of all that is good and holy in the world.  In Japan.  “That’s funny,” you are probably thinking.  “I swear I just thawed out my underwear drawer this morning because my tears of having to face another 2 months of this hell had frozen into a solid block.” 

Today in Japan is known as 節分 (せつぶん)  [setsubun] and it is used to mark the last day of winter.  Back in the old days, whenever those were, Japanese folk used to celebrate the day as New Year.  Needless to say there are some rituals and traditions associated with the day.

Typically, people throw beans (roasted soybeans being the beans of choice) out of the front doors of their houses to ward off any demons that may be thinking of paying a visit in the next year.  Also, this symbolizes the throwing out of any demons that may be residing with you currently.  Like a lazy high school dropout.  Before the recession.  This practice itself of throwing beans out the door is called 豆まき (まめまき) [mamemaki] and is occasionally practiced by having a family member dress as a demon, stand outside, and then let you hurl beans at their face while cursing them to “get lost”. 

The elementary school did all this yesterday.  The first graders went around to different classrooms (or maybe the lower grades but I only saw the first graders); some were dressed as demons and others armed with bags of peanuts.  The demons proceeded to run around while the others pelted them with peanuts as hard as possible for any 7 year old.  Cute times.

Peanuts are not beans but apparently they are all the rage in this festival nowadays.  Why?  It’s Japan, don’t ask why.

Another association with the day is that you are to eat roasted soybeans, one for each year of your age.  Some people add a plus one.  This symbolizes the bringing in of good luck for the next year of your life. 

Nowadays, as with many things in Japan, this all has largely been reduced to a fun thing most Japanese people do because it’s a tradition but not much more.  I don’t think most people actually believe any of the claims that bean throwing or bean eating is supposed to do.  Unfortunately, parts of the food industry have leeched onto the holiday and use it to experience a temporary surge in profits from peanut and bean sales as well. 

The reason spring starts on February 3rd is because traditionally Japan ran on the lunar calendar, an influence from China. 

While we are on New Year stuff I want to mention one thing I skipped over in my holiday posts:  Japanese stores will ALWAYS play “Auld Sang Lyne” at closing time.  It doesn’t matter what time of year it is.  For some reason I haven’t discovered yet Japanese people have associated this song with closing shops.  I haven’t experienced hearing the song in any other context in the country.  Certainly never on New Year as any Japanese person I’ve ever asked about that insists the song has nothing at all to do with that time of year. 

For useless trivia that might win you a spouse, Japanese people tend to love to play Beethoven’s 9th on New Year.