I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again many times in the future. The Japanese calendar is a mess.

Or at least, all of the adjustments made have made what seems like multiple alternate time lines all stacked on top of each other. Case in point, if you feel like you didn’t do enough New Year celebration on and around January 1st, you have a couple more chances to do that later.

One such chance is Setsubun on February 3rd. This is considered the last day of winter, and another chance to clear out all those demons–or as I prefer to translate them, ogres–in the closet, leftover evil influences that piled up from last year. Out with those oni! In with the luck! Or so everyone traditionally shouts while throwing beans around in the name of another chance at a fresh start.

Like many festivals, eating is an important element. I once again went the mamemaki (bean-throwing) event at Kumano Taisha, a major Susano-o shrine where he was said to have gifted the earthly inhabitants of Japan with fire. I wrote more about this event before, and this time I just focused on taking photos instead of trying to get in the way of the old people clamoring to catch enough bags of beans to be able to eat the same number of beans as their age in years–no more, and no less! One of the other eating traditions is Ehomaki, a long roll of sushi eaten while facing the auspicious direction determined for that year and contemplating your goal for the upcoming year. This tradition was popularized by the founder of Matsue, Horio Yoshiharu, when he at a long rice ball while wishing for success in battle during the Warring States era. (However, the long sushi roll as we know it today took more form in the Edo period).

As usually, the main event people gather for on Setsubun is mamemaki, though many people use this as a chance to stock up on some shiny new good luck charms for the upcoming year. Although Setsubun is often thought to have the last bout of bad weather before spring, it was a very sunny day.





Free sake! Though most people provide a donation.


This shimenawa looks like it’s been through a lot, but I like that weathered look. I always thought Taisha-tsukuri style heavy shimenawa were cool, but I have a deep appreciation for them since having helped construct one of about this size.


A relatively warm day, but the fire was cozy anyway. Thanks, Susano-o.

As usual, local government officials and other distinguished community representatives have the honor of throwing beans and rice cakes at people.


And they enjoy it.





Look! An oni!!



Sure looks bare after the beans run out.


Most people can be assured of going home with at least one bag of beans, and most likely some auspicious red or white mochi to go along with it. That’s usually not all they go home with! Everyone gets one shot at a drawing, and they get a corresponding prize, like a pair of chopsticks. I got three boxes of lotion-lined facial tissues. …Yay? (I gave one of the boxes to a friend, and I am told they are really, really nice tissues.)


Still not enough New Year for you? Did you already fail on your New Year Resolutions, and need another shot at starting over? Or were tissues just not enough for you?

Good thing for you, who flock to Shinto shrines for the earthly rewards they promise like getting rich and passing exams and avoiding traffic accidents, the Old-New Year often falls after Setsubun. Called “Kyuushougatsu” (旧正月: 旧 is “old” and 正月 is “New Years”), it would be more commonly known in English as the Chinese New Year. This is the date Japan used to use before switching to the Gregorian calendar, and shifting many of their seasonal holidays to periods of unseasonable weather for said seasonal holidays. Again, see a more thorough explanation of that here.

Izumo Taisha marks this additional start of the year with a ritual at 1:00am which includes chanting and miko dance, and a sermon from the priest. Hundreds of people squeeze into the Kaguraden, the hall decorated with Japan’s largest shimenawa, many hours before the event starts. It’s hard to squeeze, though, when many of the early arrivals are napping on blankets they brought and spread out over the tatami mats inside the hall. Others of us sat and chatted either with those we arrived with or perfect strangers who we happened to be sitting around. There are plenty of tourists from far away, but many of them are locals who have been showing up at this event for years. A couple of the gift shops and Izumo Soba restaurants lining the route from the parking lot to the Kaguraden stay open all night to give those who have gotten tired of playing cards or reading books a chance to stretch their legs and snack on some omiyage samples. Furthermore, weather was calm and the stars were brilliant that night.

Shortly after 2:00am, the moment the priest finishes his sermon, there is a sudden burst of activity as people bolt to take the gohei–folded strips of paper found in Shinto shrines–from the thin, long shimenawa hung around the edges of the inside of the Kaguraden. This is when the fun begins.

Although you could chose not to stay for it, most people are there for the prize drawing. Upon arrival, those who wish to participate (by that, I mean everyone) receive five raffle tickets and a sticker to show that they received it–no trying to get more tickets!

And what are the prizes?

Yes, those are enormous and expensive TVs you are looking at. There were five levels of prizes, and each came with a with pile of things to take home. Prizes included TVs, digital cameras, and sake and wine and local snacks, and expensive items on the high shelves of display cases at the surrounding gift stores, and travel vouchers, and hotel stays at local Izumo hotels, and microwave ovens, vacuum cleaners, and miniature shrines with statues made of precious materials inside. To be honest, many of the prizes sounded like they’d be more trouble than they’d be worth!

That seems to be the case for my coworker who happened to have a stroke of luck this year, seeing as he won a second-tier prize. It’s a good thing only three of us went, otherwise it would have been difficult to take his big pile of prizes home.

I think I can say I’ve officially rung in the new year enough times now to settle in to 2016. Plus, now I have a story about removing a big screen TV from Izumo Taisha shrine premises at 4 in the morning.

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