Category Archives: Japanese Culture

Out with the demon! In with Prosperity!

The Japanese festival of Setsu Bun.  According to the Japan tradition, this the day before the start of spring and it is celebrated by family members throwing roasted soy beans at a person dressed as a demon and shouting `out with the demon! In with the prosperity!`. Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! The roasted soy bean pelted demon must run for his life.  oni

What is this Demon who has cow horns on his head and tiger skin fundoshi (Japanese loincloth)? Well, Demon is pronounced Oni in Japanese.  It is said the this oni come from the character 陰, pronounced `on`。It could be associated with the the dark or inability to see. Metaphorically, some one who can not see or is in the dark, bad energy.  Interestingly this is also the character used in the expression In/Yo or Ying/Yang. Further, we can look at the characters 隠人=on nin, a hidden being, some thing or some form that can not be seen by the eye, an essence transcending our human imaginations bringing disasters and sickness. This is the demon we are sweeping out. As for the Demon`s horns and tiger skin underpants, he is said to arrive from the direction of the Ki Mon or the demon`s gate. Perhaps you have heard of ki mon in the martial arts as well?  According to the Asian zodiac, kimon is in the direction of the cow and tiger.  Now you know. Poor Cow and tiger!

But you may ask, `why the beans?`.  Beans is pronounced mame in Japanese.  There are several play on words here. One reading of a character for demon 魔 is ma and the character for eye is 目 me. Throwing mame at the demon to crush his eyes and drive him out.  Also the character Metsu 滅 means to a abolish, destroy, or die.  Ma 魔 Metsu 滅. Abolishing the demon. Mame, mametsu, close enough, right? There are more hidden meanings in all actions of this festival. One charming and funny example is to place a roasted sardine head on skewer with holly thorns in front of your house because the Oni hates all bad smelling things and holly thorns! So your house is protected now!  Better than that expensive alarm system you installed! And Cheaper! But seriously, I wish everyone a joyous, healthy, safe, and happy new year. Happy Setsu Bun!