One of the enjoyable things about living in Japan is the way its culture is so different from my home country, giving me the opportunity to learn new things at every turn. One example of culture that’s very different from our expectations is Setsubun, which took place on Sunday. It’s a fun day to figuratively chase evil out of your house by throwing soybeans at ogres (generally played by the father of the house, wearing an ogre mask), then eat your age in dried soybeans, which for me is quite a few more soybeans than I care to consume. Then there’s Ehomaki, or Lucky Sushi Roll, which you eat while facing a specific direction that’s determined using a 1500-year-old chart after making a wish. In recent years, Ehoumaki has become increasingly popular thanks to heavy marketing by supermarkets and convenience stores, who are happy to sell us more rolled sushi. (The “lucky” direction for 2019 is east-northeast if you’ve got some rolled sushi handy.)
It’s no coincidence that Setsubun takes place near Chinese New Year. This is because Setsubun was traditionally the old New Year’s Eve before 1873 when Japan switched from the Lunar calendar to the modern Western one. In the same way that Japanese always clean their homes and businesses before a new year arrives, Setsubun was seen as a kind of “cleaning” of Buddhist temples by chasing evil spirits out. A lot of Japanese superstitions, like the belief that people will have yakudoshi or certain years when they’re susceptible to tragedy and bad luck, are still tied to the old Lunar calendar, rather the modern one.
If you’re a fan of Urusei Yatsura, the groundbreaking anime whose explosive popularity in the early 80s laid the groundwork for the modern anime industry we enjoy today, you might be wondering why the two girls above (Maria and Mio from Shinmai Maou no Testament) are cosplaying as Lum from that series. The answer is, Lum herself is cosplaying as an ogre from Setsubun, and in fact, she’s an oni (ogre) alien from the planet Oniboshi. Everything from her tiger strike bikini to her horns and fangs are symbols of this special cultural day, rather than original creations.
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