Thirty-two years ago I was living in Japan where, on February 3, I celebrated the Japanese festival, Setsubun. Setsubun means “Bean-Throwing Festival,” and that is exactly what I was doing. “Oni wa soto!” (Demons out!) and “Fuku wa uchi!” (Luck in!) were the phrases I was told to shout as I threw roasted soybeans around the living room of my host family.
The Japanese love to hate their demons who are mischievous characters needing to be put in their place. So, every year on February 3, the Japanese throw roasted soybeans (either out a window, or at someone donning a demon mask, or just around the room) yelling, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” Then, to bring luck and good health in, each person eats sugar-coated roasted soybeans, one for each year of their current age. It is all done in good fun, but as an outsider experiencing the frivolity for the first time, it did make me think.
The practical side of me wondered how my host mom was going to find all those beans that were being flung to the far corners of the living room. There were five of us throwing beans that day, which resulted in a lot of laughter as the beans were thrown about.
The Christian in me wondered if this celebration could fit into my beliefs. The demons of Setsubun are not the same as the cunning, sly devil that I think of from my Christian upbringing, but wouldn’t be nice to be able to keep The Devil at bay, simply by shouting at it and pelting it with some roasted soybeans?
This brings to mind Martin Luther, who once defended himself from The Devil by throwing his inkwell at it, which left an ink spot on the wall. (That spot is reportedly still visible today.) Perhaps throwing roasted soybeans at a demon is not so far fetched, and it might even be a little bit Lutheran! I know I must reject the devil in any way I can. I made such a promise on the day I became a confirmed member in the Lutheran church.
Kris Brugamyer, of Dickinson, N.D., is completing her second term on the churchwide executive board of Women of the ELCA.