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One of the great joys in living in Japan is being able to observe their holidays and festivals-and there are a lot. Some are a little hard to translate, thankfully we have a friend, Fumie, who helps us to understand. She's affectionately called our cultural sensei because she helps us to appreciate each celebration that comes around. Setsubun was no exception!

Setsubun, aka the "division of the seasons", is typically observed on February 3rd, but because this year's lunar calendar was on February 2nd. That hasn't happened since 1897!

Cute, right? This playground slide is the perfect representation of Setsubun since the oni (demon or ogre) is a huge part of the traditional observance. Setsubun is a Japanese festival that traditionally marks the end of winter. Many Japanese people grow up enacting scenes where one family member wears the mask of an oni and is driven off by others throwing roasted soybeans at them.

You know we had fun with this one!

The new year is felt to be a time when the spirit world became close to the physical world, thus the need to perform mamemaki (豆撒き, "bean scattering") to drive away any wandering spirits that might happen too close to one's home.

This ritual roasted soybeans known as fukumame (福豆, lit., "fortune beans") are either thrown out of the front door or at a member of the family wearing an oni mask while shouting "Devils out! Fortune in!"

(Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! (鬼は外! 福は内!)), before slamming the door.

Let's just say we covered our bases and did both.

The beans are thought to symbolically purify the home by driving away the evil spirits that bring misfortune and bad health with them. Then, as part of bringing luck in, it is customary to eat roasted soybeans, one for each year of one's life, and in some areas, one for each year of one's life, plus one more for bringing good luck for the year to come. The custom is usually performed by either a man of the household born in the corresponding zodiac year for the new year (toshiotoko (年男)), or else the male head of the household.

Lucky for us, Jackson was born in the corresponding zodiac year, the Year of the Rat. Does this mean we had some extra zhuzh behind the bean-scattering? Who knows, but a girl can hope!

It was the tradition we were glad to partake in, the other, well, it wasn't for us since it involved eating a huge sushi roll.

Eating uncut makizushi rolls, known as ehō-maki (恵方巻, lit., "lucky direction roll") in silence is (I've been told) a delicious part of the festival. You face the year's lucky compass direction as determined by the zodiac symbol of that year and get to indulge in pure sushi decadence. 2021's direction is south-southeast. It is something that originated in Osaka, but due to marketing efforts by grocery and convenience stores has expanded country-wide.

Each year I learn little more about these beautiful cultural celebrations. Each year it's a little different. But every year it is incredibly special, especially when it's shared with family and friends.

Happy Setsubun, y'all!

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