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Interfaith e-Lert: Setsubun-sai – Shinto

From Common Table’s Interfaith e-Lerts:

Shinto (meaning roughly the “Way of the Gods”) is Japan’s indigenous/native religion. Setsubun-sai is an ancient Shinto celebration based on Japan’s old Lunar calendar and was historically considered the start of the New Year. It remains as an important celebration of the change of seasons, of the coming of spring, and of the end of “Kan,” the coldest season.

Setsubun-sai is not a national holiday in Japan; however, all over the country – both in private homes, and publicly in large festivals at Shinto Shrines and at Buddhist Temples – there are celebrations for Setsubun. There are mass public Setsubun observances involving popular television personalities, Sumo Wrestlers, and other notables.

Setsubun (meaning “season division”) is celebrated this year on February 3rd, one day before Risshun (the first day of spring in the traditional Japanese lunar calendar).

While there many regional variations in the celebration of Setsubun, in most communities the tradition of mame-maki (literally, bean scattering) remains as the main event.

The custom of mame-maki dates to the Heian-era (794 to 1185) of classical Japanese history. Mame-maki began as a special New Year’s ritual to drive out evil spirits and the seeds of misfortune, and to welcome good fortune in the New Year.

In the ceremony, soybeans are first roasted to seal in any evil acts that might have been performed by demons during the previous year and to insure that bad fortune will not germinate in the coming year. In homes, the custom is to symbolically purify the home by either scattering the roasted beans or by throwing them out the door while chanting “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!” – roughly translated, “Demons out! Luck in!” (Think of New Year’s toasts of “Out with the old and in with the new!” and you’ll have the general idea!)

In a related custom, many people make a practice of eating one of the remaining soybeans for each year of their age.

Shinto is generally considered one of the “classic” eleven or twelve “major world religions.” However, in current polls only about 3.3% of the Japanese people give Shinto as their religion. World-wide there are at most about 4 million people who consider themselves primarily practitioners of Shinto.

For our purposes here the important point is that most Japanese people participate in holidays with Shinto roots. An estimated 100 million people will observe at least some aspect of Setsubun-sai. We ask that you join with us on February 3rd as we unite with Setsubun-sai celebrants in affirming good fortune for all people.

Shalom Salaam Peace

Kay & Dave Corby, Founders
Common Tables

“As members of Common Tables, we have met and learned from a modest sampling of believers and unbelievers. We hope to meet more and learn more and to share our commitment to a shared humanity.” Dan L. Colorado

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Recommended Reading:
The Essence of Shinto: Japan’s Spiritual Heart

To learn more about the world’s faith traditions, including Shinto, we invite you to consider the books suggested in our online bookstore: The Higher Shelf.

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