Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

Japanese Devils Beat You For Good Luck on Setsubun

Setsubun is a Japanese Spring Ritual where on the 3rd of February Japanese drive bad luck in the form of devils from their homes. At many temples and shrines throughout Japan, Setsubun activities take place. At Ishite-ji Temple in Matsuyama city on the island of Shikoku they have an interesting twist on the typical Setsubun activity of driving away devils.
 
Usually on Setsubun devils known as Oni are driven away by beans thrown at them. Japanese say at the same time “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” which means “devils out, good luck in!” At Ishite-ji Temple, the devils actually bring the good luck to people in the shape of bamboo staffs that they use to beat people lightly in a rhythmic cadence.
 
The staff they use is a variation of a keisaku stick which is used in meditation sessions of Zen Buddhism. Keisaku is a “warning stick” wielded by a Zen priest known as a Jikijitsu who is in charge of the zazen meditation sessions at Zen Temples. If a student is falling asleep the Jikijisu will administer a beating on the student’s back. The keisaku’s bark is actually worse than its bite as it sounds much lounder than it actually feels. In fact, students will often request a “beating” to keep themselves awake and to relieve muscle cramps. Another name for the keisaku stick is called kyosaku which means “encouragement stick.”
 
The “beatings” administered by the Setsubun devils at Ishite-ji Temple are anything but painful and are for the purpose of giving the “beaten” good luck. So instead of driving the devils away like they do at many other Setsubun events, people actually run to the devils and let them beat them for the good luck aspect of Setsubun.
For Photos:
http://therovingroninreport.blogspot.jp/2013/02/japanese-devils-beat-people-for-good.html

 

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February 21, 2013 Posted by | japan, japanese culture, Japanese festival, Setsubun | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gods, Devils, and Geisha – Setsubun in Kyoto and Nara

Gods, Devils, and Geisha
Setsubun in Kyoto and Nara



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A Devil arrives with sword and torch at a Buddhist Temple in Kyoto

Setsubun (Feb 3rd) is a Japanese Spring ritual where Japanese drive bad luck in the form of Oni (devils) out of their homes with a handful of tossed beans. At temples and shrines, they do mame maki which is throwing beans and other things to gathered crowds. 

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Mame Maki (bean-throwing) with Geisha

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Setsubun is one of my favorite Japanese holidays and I’ve been celebrating it for the past 6 years or more. In the past I always celebrated it at temples and shrines in or around Tokyo. This year I headed for Kyoto taking in Nara in the evening as well. I started Setsubun on the 2nd with some Geisha mame maki (geisha were throwing beans that is, not that they were throwing geisha). 

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On February 2nd, while Americans watch groundhogs watching for their shadows, Japanese, or at least those in Kyoto, watch Geisha throw beans to gathered crowds at Yasaka Shrine. The Geisha actually are maiko who are Geisha apprentices. There were two groups of maiko, one from the Pontocho district and the other from the Miyagawacho district. Before doing mame maki they graced us with a brief dance performance – a rare treat.

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In the evening I went to Mibu-dera, a temple famous for its association with the Shinsengumi, a militaristic police group for the old Shogunate in the mid-19th Century, and for kyogen plays. Kyogen is type of comical play which was often performed as intermission pieces of more serious Noh dramas. Unfortunately for the visitor, no photography or video making was allowed. This was either to protect the performance or to keep away the distraction of camera shutters clicking, video cameras beeping, and those idiots who don’t know how to turn off the flash on their pocket cameras.

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Setsubun Devils are distinguishable by their horns and fetching tiger pants

Mibu-dera put on a special Setsubun kyogen for the occasion about a widow who encounters a Setsubun devil. The widow is visited by a devil in the guise of a traveler. He has a magic hammer which he makes an expensive kimono for himself and the widow. They begin drinking sake and the devil drinking too much falls asleep. The widow gets greedy and decides to make off with the hammer and kimono. As she strips away the “traveler’s” kimono she sees his true self and screams. The devil awakes and comes after her. Panicked, the widow reaches for the first thing to defend herself and throws it at the devil. What she threw at him was dried soybeans, the traditional beans of Setsubun. Devils hate beans for some reason and so the widow was able to drive the devil away. It was easy to understand the story despite my limited Japanese because it was all done through pantomime. 

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Setsubun Devils often wield huge iron-studded clubs

On the next day, Setsubun proper, I went to six places starting with Yasaka Shrine for a brief mame maki by people in old court costumes from the Heian Era (794-1192). The men wore a kariginu, the everyday wear of a court noble, which would later become the formal wear of the samurai in later ages. The women wore the costume of a Shirabyoshi dancer. Shirabyoshi were female dancers who wore men’s clothing and performed slow rhythmic dances that influenced later Noh performers. The Shirabyoshi tradition began in 12th Century, the last century of the Heian Period and until 1868 the last century in which governmental power would reside within the Imperial Court.

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Mame Maki participants wearing old court costumes

From Yasaka, I made use of my all day bus pass and leapt onto a northbound bus to Heian Shrine. Heian Shrine was built just over a hundred years ago as a replica of the old Imperial Palace. There I got a snatch of a Kyogen performance which thankfully allowed photography and video. What caught my attention was that one of the performers was female. Traditionally Kyogen like Kabuki and Noh was performed solely by males including the female roles. As this was a festival performance perhaps the rules were relaxed.

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Kyogen performers

From Heian Shrine I went to Shogo-In, a temple which normally lies off of the tourist trail as there is not much to lend itself to fame amongst so many other temples. However, this small temple puts on one of the more interesting Setsubun rituals. The priests dress as Yamabushi, which are a type of ascetic hermit who are known for often living in the mountains following a creed which is a blend of Buddhism and the native Shintoism.

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A brief snow flurry at Shogo-In Temple prior to the Setsubun exorcism

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Yamabushi were mysterious hermits credited with having supernatural power

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Yamabushi playing seashell horn

After a lengthy but catchy chanting ritual, three devils arrived wielding their massive iron-studded clubs. They were quickly subdued by bean-throwing Yamabushi and tamed into submission. Later the devils participated in mami maki by throwing the beans at us instead.

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An elderly Yamabushi confronts a devil with courage and beans

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Setsubun Devil throwing beans rather than having them thrown at him

At another small temple Rozan-ji, a temple far too small to accommodate the number of visitors that Setsubun brings, three devils arrived bearing weapons while another gave blessings to visitors.

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A Setsubun Devil Bestowing Blessings

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The weapon-bearing devils danced around before going into the temple. An archer came out sometime later to do a kind of archery exorcism ritual in which he shot untipped arrows in the four cardinal directions. Soon after the three devils emerged from the temple sans their weapons. They were staggering about reeling from the effects of the Setsubun exorcism rituals. After that mame maki was done and here they threw hard-shelled sweets and small mochi rice cakes.

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Archer performing archery exorcism ritual

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A Devil going down for the count

After that I took a train to Nara and got there in time to see yet another Setsubun exorcism demonstration in the evening. Nara was the first capital of Japan from 710-784. At Kofuku-ji Temple another lengthy exorcism ritual took place while the crowd shifted restlessly waiting for the main event namely the devils. The crowd was silently shouting in their minds “Get on with it! Bring on the Devils!” as the priests droned on. Finally after an eternity of waiting, the devils arrived both big and small. They pranced about the stage under the night sky waving torches and weapons. 

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A l’il devil

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Here the devils were apparently too tough to be defeated by just mere beans. At Kofuku-ji, they brought out the big guns in the form of Bishamonten or Bishamon, a Buddhist deity and Guardian of the North. Bishamon battles all kinds of evils. North is the direction where Japanese traditionally believe evils come from so the Northern Guardian has to be pretty stout to deal with them. Bishamon took on all the devils by himself. It was like spiritual pro-wrestling with (plastic) weapons.

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Bishamon – the Muhammad Ali of Buddhist Devil Fighters

After that I went to Kasuga Taisha Shrine for a cool down. The shrine’s Setsubun was far more low-key. No gods, devils, geisha, mountain priests, or grasping hands for flying beans. They just had lanterns lit up for the night. It was very beautiful and serene. Whew! After all that I was Setsubuned Out!

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Kasuga Taisha Shrine

February 10, 2010 Posted by | buddhism, devils, Geisha Dance, japan, japanese culture, Kyoto, maiko, Nara, oni, Only in Japan, Setsubun, travel, video, vlog, weird | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Setsubun in Kyoto and Nara Video

Setsubun (Feb 3rd) is a Japanese Spring ritual where Japanese drive bad luck in the form of Oni (devils) out of their homes with a handful of tossed beans. At temples and shrines, they do mame maki which is throwing beans and other things to gathered crowds.

Setsubun is one of my favorite Japanese holidays and I’ve been celebrating it for the past 6 years or more. In the past I always celebrated it at temples and shrines in or around Tokyo. This year I headed for Kyoto taking in Nara in the evening as well.

I started Setsubun on the 2nd with some Geisha mame maki (geisha were throwing beans that is not that they were throwing geisha). On the 3rd, I went to 6 places starting with Yasaka Shrine for a brief mame maki by people in old court costumes then I went to Heian Shrine where they were doing Kyogen, traditional comedy plays set inbetween Noh dramas. After Heian I went to the small temple Shogo-In where they pelted 3 devils then later the devils threw beans at us! At a tiny temple near the old Imperial Palace, they had three devils arrive with weapons only to be driven away by beans and chants.

After that I took a train to Nara and got there in time to see yet another Oni demonstration. Here the devils were defeated by Bishamonten or Bishamon, Buddhist deity and Guardian of the North. It was like spiritual pro-wrestling with weapons. After that I went to Kasuga Taisha Shrine for a cool down. They had their hanging lanterns lit up for Setsubun. It was very beautiful.

Whew! After all that I was Setsubuned Out!

February 6, 2010 Posted by | japan, japanese culture, Kyoto, oni, Only in Japan, Setsubun | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Bean-Throwing Geisha Celebrate Setsubun in Kyoto

February 2nd, while Americans watch groundhogs and their shadows, Japanese, or at least those in Kyoto, watch Geisha perform the Japanese version of Groundhog Day known as Setsubun. Setsubun is a sp…
February 2nd, while Americans watch groundhogs and their shdows, Japanese, or at least those in Kyoto, watch Geisha perform the Japanese version of Groundhog Day known as Setsubun. Setsubun is a spring ritual in which Japanese throw beans to ward off invisible evils and hasten the end of winter. At many temples and shrines they do a bean throwing ceremony known as mami-maki.

At Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto some of the bean throwers are geisha or rather maiko – geisha apprentices. Geisha are known as geiko in the Kansai dialect.

I got a packet of beans and ate them (also a Setsubun tradtion) washed down with Kirin Beer (a Samurai Dave tradition)

February 3, 2010 Posted by | culture, dance, Geiko, geisha, Geisha Dance, japan, japanese culture, Kyoto, Setsubun, travel, video, vlog | , , , , , | 5 Comments