Every now and then a number of the JETs living close to me are invited over to a woman’s house for fine cooking. Her profession is to provide cooking lessons to over 100 people, and somehow she got involved in cooking for the lot of us. This is a welcome treat since she is obviously good at what she does and seems to set aside quite a budget for the food too, so it really is like a banquet. In addition to the foreigners and herself, there are a number of her students who join in as well. The time of course includes eating, but also a bit of socializing since everyone can speak some amount of Japanese and English. It’s a language exchange for all involved, and makes for some laughs, as is the nature of speaking another language. I was trying to ask someone how many times they have given blood, but instead used the verb for to get married. I noticed something was seriously wrong when I saw their faces after boasting about doing it 5 times or so.
Anyway, today was more than the dinner, there were also respects paid to Setsubun, which is one of the stranger holidays in Japan. It is celebrated every February 3rd (yeah yeah, we were 1 day early…), which is the day before spring according to the lunar calendar. During the festivities, the idea is to bring about good luck and in preparation for the new year, and is done by symbolically casting out the demons (called an oni) by throwing beans at them. There are the people who don the image of an oni and then those as bean tossers. After purifying the house by driving out the onis, one then is able to bring about good luck by eating the beans in an amount corresponding to their age. Both things happened that night.
Here we are getting the masks going.
Here is the actual tossing of the beans
Then as an added bonus, I was introduced to another side of the tradition I was not aware of. Basically, whomever has a birthday within the current zodiac year eats an entire sushi roll with some certain things inside of it. This needs to be done in complete silence, and more interestingly done while facing the direction corresponding to the particular zodiac animal. In this case of this years, it’s the Rabbit, which meant me. Once orientated to the East, I was ready to chomp down.
In the end it was a great little outing, as it is always fun to see the guys midweek plus free plus free and well cooked food is wonderful. I had really been wanting to do a proper Setsubun due to the cultural oddity of it. However it isn’t on par with any large holidays, and being religious, isn’t a national holiday so my options would be limited. I got lucky I guess…