In Japan, the ritual driving out of demons, bad luck and evil spirits in preparation for the lunar New Year is achieved with the ceremony known as mame-maki or bean throwing ceremonies. At shrines and temples through our the country people gather together. There are performances by colourfully dressed oni (goblins and demons) and even high-profile celebrity make appearances.
Roasted soy beans are the weapon of choice against the oni. These colourful “devils” wearing masks make a threatening scene. The audience throws the soy beans at them while shouting “Fuku-wa-uchi, Oni-wa-soto!” (“Good luck in, devils out!”), finally vanquishing them and chasing them away. The beans are said to symbolize the sowing of seeds and the beginning of new life.
One of the popular sights in Tokyo for this event is the Asakusa Sensoji Temple, where movie stars, pop singers, geisha, and even sumo wrestlers attend the ceremony. They help with the bean throwing, also tossing handfuls of beans out onto the crowd to bring them luck. More traditional ceremonies, involving demons with flaming torches and spectacular battles between demons and Buddhist deities are held at Kofukuji Temple, and at the great Horyuji Temple, both in Nara and at various shrines and temples in Kyoto.
Another widely observed custom is to eat the same number of beans as your age, plus one for the coming year, to ensure health, good luck and prosperity. This is said to be particularly important if you are a man aged 25 or 42, or a woman aged 19 or 33, as these are unlucky ages and you’ll need all the help you can get!
(Originally published in Muzosa Journal 2/3/06. Author retains all copyrights.)
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