On our current trip to Japan (we are in Tokyo for a few more days) we were in Kyoto for Setsubun, the day before the beginning of Spring in Japan. This holiday is always celebrated on February 3rd and is related to the Lunar New Year although Japan generally celebrates the New Year on the western calendar.
Setsubun is all about getting rid of the evils of the previous year and loading up on new luck for the coming year. Events are held at Shinto shrines all over Japan. The spot to be in Kyoto seemed to be at Yasaka Shrine (also a big tourist spot) so we headed there.
The throwing and eating of roasted soybeans is a central feature of Setsubun. At appointed times, priests, local maiko from Gion and probably some special civic guests get on the shrine’s stage and throw envelopes of beans into the assembled crowd. You eat one bean for each year of your age plus one in order to assure good luck for the year.
When we got to the shrine were was a good crowd. People were buying good luck amulets and other offerings. We thought you could only get beans buy catching them but it also turns out you could make a donation and buy yourself some luck for 300 yen ($3ish). In addition to the beans you got a kind of raffle ticket. You took the raffle ticket to another station and pulled out a number that corresponded to prizes that were being given out at yet another tent. Everyone won something.
Brownlee and I each bought two envelopes of beans so we got two prizes. I was the big winner with my small bottle of Cap Ace sake and insulated lunch bag. Brownlee won a can of Cocktail Friend (some of juice mixer) and a small box of plastic wrap! They even put your prizes in cute carrier bags featuring an illustration of a maiko tossing the beans.After receiving our prizes we queued up for the bean throwing. Three maiko did a lovely set of dances while accompanied by three geisha on shamisen before the tossing began. Once the beans were in the air, things got pretty rough (for Japan). I almost had my glasses knocked off. Older Japanese are pretty serious about grabbing their luck! We both managed to catch an envelope of beans. Mine literally hit me in the face.After all beans were thrown, we found a spot to sit down. We made ourselves little cocktails from our prizes and consumed our luck. Hoping for the best in the Year of the Rooster.