In Japan, the last day of the year in the old lunar calendar corresponds to about February 3. The day is called setsubun no hi on which a traditional event called mamemaki - the scattering of beans to pray for safety and health in the new year - is held. Based on the long-held belief that beans have the power to ward off evil, mamemaki is conducted at shrines and temples as well. Here are five select shrines and temples in Kyoto where mamemaki events are held.
1. Rozanji Temple
Official Name: Rozan Tendaikoji
Rozanji Temple is a temple with a history dating back to 938, and is famous as the site in which Murasaki Shikibu, the author of "The Tale of Genji." had her home. "Genjitei," a garden that has an atmosphere reminiscent of the Heian period (794-1185) is the highlight of this temple. At the Setsubun-e event, "Tsuinashiki Onihoraku," an "oni odori" dance is held from 3:00. Three oni demons that are incarnations of human "greed, anger, and complaint" dance, and at 4:00, the mamemaki begins. The red, blue and black oni demons that are dancing violently are driven away with arrows, mochi, and beans that ward off evil. At the "Oni-no Okaji" (blessings by the oni) held afterwards, the oni demons that have been cleared of evil spirits will stroke the parts of your body that are unwell and pray for your recovery. Enjoy the event up close and feel its power!
2. Yasaka Shrine
Yasaka Shrine is famous for its Gion-matsuri Festival, which is one of Japan's three major festivals. It is in a popular tourist spot in the lively Gion district of Kyoto that is full of shops and restaurants. Here, a Setsubun-sai Festival is held twice: At 1:00 on February 2, the day before Setsubun, and at 11:00 on February 3, the day of Setsubun. With dance offerings by geisha dancers and mamemaki bean scattering held on both days, they are fun festivals full of the bustling Gion atmosphere. The "fukumame" (beans scattered at Setsubun) (300 JPY) come with raffle tickets that are all win tickets. There is a variety of items ready to be exchanged for the raffle tickets, so why not buy some beans and see if you can win a special gift?
3. Heian Jingu Shrine
Heian Jingu Shrine was built in 1895 in commemoration of the 1,100th anniversary of the establishment of the capital city of Heian-kyo (which corresponds to the central part of the city of Kyoto today). The Setsubun festival on February 3 starts at 1:00, and the shrine is full of people who have traveled far and wide to see the events. Dainanogi, which is a detailed reenactment of the Heian period "Tsuinashiki" ceremony to dispel oni demons, is an important event to learn about Japanese culture that has been handed down since ancient times, and following it, mamemaki bean scattering is conducted as a part of the "Oni-no Mai" (oni dance). You will want to pray to ward off evil and invite good luck while watching the events. It will be fun to pass through the 24-meter high red torii gate and let your thoughts wander back in history to the Heian period!
4. Yoshida Shrine
Yoshida Shrine has been beloved by locals since its establishment in 859 as the guardian shrine of the capital city of Heian-kyo. The Setsubun-sai festival there, which has been held for several hundred years to pray for happiness and peace, is visited by approximately 500,000 people every year. It is held for three days, from February 2, the day before Setsubun, to February 4, the day after Setsubun. With approximately 800 stalls open on February 2 and 3, it is an event where you can enjoy a festive atmosphere.
5. Tenryu-ji Temple
Official Name: Reigizan Tenryushiseizenji
Tenryu-ji Temple is one of the World Heritage sites in Kyoto, and is a popular tourist site known for its impressive Japanese garden. Many locals and tourists gather for the Setsubun-e event that is held from 8:00 am on February 3, making it an exciting and festive event. The mamemaki bean scattering is held on a specially built stage in the front of the temple at three times: at 11:30 am, 1:30 pm and 3:30 pm. With various stalls opening up and sweet sake and cask sake distributed for free, this is an event where you can experience the atmosphere of a Japanese fair. There is also a tour of the "Shichifukujin" (seven lucky gods) held in conjunction with the Setsubun event. Visitors tour Sanshuin, Kogenji, Jisaiin, Shogenji, Yomeiin, Jyuneiin and Myochiin, the 7 individual small temples inside the temple, and receive amulets and pray for happiness through the year. This is highly recommended for those who have time.
If you are in Kyoto around the time of Setsubun, be sure to visit some of the temples and shrines introduced here!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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