Friday, February 03, 2006


Chris and I celebrate Setsubun, which marks the lunar new year, mostly because it's fun to throw mame(beans) around. A gentleman at work, who is fluent in Japanese language and culture, described to me how to celebrate Setsubun in a modern style:

"You throw the beans around the house, then you get your soji (vaccuum cleaner) and vaccuum them up."

To which I add, you continue to find the mame hiding behind the sofa, the sideboard, the TV until July.

Traditonally, you're supposed to eat one bean for each year of your age. Last year I was 33, which is considered an unlucky age, so I made sure to eat my beans. I'm not sure it helped, but one can't be too careful.

At the end of January, displays of the beans pop up all over, at mall stands, department stores and conbeenies. We got our beans at the conbeenie. I bought it because it had Otafuku (also known as Okame)on the box. I think the cashier was suprised, because when I showed Chris the box, I said "Mitte! Kochira ga Otafuku, desu neh?" (Look! It's Otafuku!)

The Shinto goddess of mirth and sensuality, ever-smiling Otafuku is believed to have restored light to the world-by doing a humorous dance. It was comedienne who saved the world! Otafuku is also known as Okame and Uzume, in more recent times she has become an entertainer who performs during the lunar New Year celebration.

In Japanese theater she represents an abundantly happy woman who brings good fortune to any man she marries. Because she represents luck, laughter and happiness (fuku in Japanese) Otafuku is a much-beloved deity here in Japan. She's represented as a plump, cheerful woman who's not quite put together (her hair is mussed or the combs are falling out or her kimono isn't quite so), but she's always depicted as smiling (possibly laughing) and is so charming you can't help but smile back. It's as though you know you can always get a hug or a kind word or tea from her. You may have known certain women in your life who were like that-a great-aunt who had seemingly bottomless cookie jar and would let you help yourself, the godmother who was plump and gave the best hugs, the crazy college friend who could always make you laugh, even at the worst times--people who offered kindness and comfort and made you feel happy and lucky and loved.

The optimism of the deity is indicated in a temple explanation leaflet. "Otafuku assures that failure always becomes success, that misfortune becomes good fortune, that one's heart's desire will be accomplished. That is why she is called Otafuku -- "Much Felicity."

According the Japanese, spring officially starts the day after Setsubun. Ha. (see the 2/2 post)

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