Sunday, February 5, 2012

Beans and Bums

Note: Some people will find the content of this post offensive.  To discover whether you will be offended by this post, please read the following sentence:


We good?


So Friday was Setsubun, which is a holiday that falls on February 3 every year.  Basically, you're supposed to chase out any bad luck from the old year and welcome in good luck for the New Year.  The way you do this is by throwing beans.
Yes, beans.  Soy beans, to be exact.
When celebrating at home, the father (or other male in the household who doesn't mind a little pain) will usually dress up in a demon mask, and the kids will throw beans at him while yelling, "鬼は外" (oni wa soto; "demons out") and then throw beans inside the house while yelling, "福は内" (fuku wa uchi; "luck in").  Then everyone has to eat the number of beans corresponding to their age plus one (for luck).

Anyway, I decided to check out a couple of different Setsubun festivals in the area.

First stop of the day was Ueno Tenmangu, for an 11 a.m. ceremony.  There was already a pretty big crowd by the time I arrived.

As you can probably tell from the pictures, they had put a banner up along the edge of the roof, and were preparing to throw beans from there.

They also had some people from 7-Eleven selling a special kind of sushi that you eat at Setsubun.

People on the roof!

Since the festival was in the middle of the time when most people are at work/school, most of the attendants were retired or young moms.

There's been an explosion of dolls at the shrine since the New Year, probably because the dolls come with omikuji, and buying omikuji is a common activity during the New Year's festivities.

Someone made a snowman.  Can you guess what it's supposed to be?
(If you need a hint, just keep looking through the pictures.)

All ready to go!


(They were in little plastic packets, so people didn't have to worry about how sanitary it was to eat them.)

They also threw candy.

The only guy who shouted anything was the guy with the microphone, and I think they were supposed to throw in time to his shouting, but that mostly failed.

Catching beans is serious business.

I caught one!

Big black print: good luck bean

Red print on right side: safety in the family

Red print on the left side: opening luck beckoning good luck

Everybody counts up his/her spoils...

So then I took some pictures of little dolls, because THEY ARE WORTH TAKING PICTURES OF.  Or something.


And is drooling on them.


Uh...did you guys get lost?

One of these things is not like the other...

So that was Ueno Tenmangu.

Second festival of the day was at Shiroyama Hachimangu at 4 p.m., so after the time when all the elementary students (and college students) got out.

They also had a convenience store selling sushi, but this time it was Family Mart.  And one of the employees was wearing a demon wig.  'cause, you know, you want to buy sushi from demons.

There was still a fair amount of snow on the ground.

I arrived about half an hour before the actual bean-throwing started, so all the bean-throwers were filing into the honden for a purification ceremony beforehand.

This guy was making announcements during the ceremony on a microphone.

So many people!

This was the first set of bean-throwers.  There were three sets total, probably because the balcony around the shrine wasn't big enough to accommodate all of them at once.


(They also had a guy on a microphone chanting, but they weren't throwing in time either.)

There was a kind of dangerous amount of pushing going on...although fortunately nobody got knocked over.

I caught some!

There were a bunch of little kids with demon masks, so I think that probably a preschool in the area was making them that day or something...


So that was Shiroyama Hachimangu.

On my way back to my dorm, I ran into Kocchan, who had apparently texted me the previous day but my phone, being amazing, didn't think to deliver her text until about ten minutes later.  Anyway, she's interviewing for a job teaching English, and part of the interview is writing an essay in English in fifteen minutes.  Yes, fifteen minutes.  It's insane.  Anyway, she wanted to know if I could look over one of her practice essays, and I said sure.  It was pretty exciting.  She also writes better essays than some college honors English kids?  Yeah.

Anyway, after that I put on even more layers than I was already wearing and headed over to Gosha Shrine for their 7 p.m. Setsubun/Star Festival combo.  There were only about thirty people there, mostly the older gentlemen who are the shrine's soudai, but there were also some women from the neighborhood and a bunch of little kids.  There was the standard purification, and then Nakano-san asked everyone who had been born in the year of the dragon (it was two kids and one woman) to step forward and offer a tamagushi together.  Then everyone who attended got to throw beans and yell, "鬼は外、福は内."
After that was the Star Festival, which is for one of the kami (a star kami, if you didn't already guess) enshrined at Gosha Shrine.  It was a fairly standard ceremony, except that Nakano-san's younger daughter was there to perform kagura, which was cool.
Afterwards, everyone got a little bag of beans and hot amazake, which is a kind of sweet sake.  BUT the kind that they had was non-alcoholic (so the kids could drink it), which meant that I could drink it too.  And it was DELICIOUS.  It makes me wonder whether the alcoholic stuff tastes as good...but I'm not wondering hard enough to try it.

I made it back to my dorm without tripping and breaking my neck on the icy sidewalks,* which I think is an achievement.  There I ran into Louki, who asked if she and "some other girls" could come to Hadaka Matsuri with me, and I said sure.

Well, as it turned out the next day, "some other girls" meant eight girls total, which meant we were a female gaijin SWARM.  Apparently no guys were interested in coming to the festival.  Why?  Well, here's where the bums come in.

The festival is called 裸祭, which literally means "naked festival."  No, it doesn't involve any actual nudity, but it does involve guys running around in a special kind of loin cloth...which, as you will see shortly, gives you a much more...expansive view than normal loin cloths.


When we made it to the train station, there was a poster up for the festival.  And there were apparently special trains running to the festival too?  It was exciting.

This is what it looked like when we hopped off the train.

Soooooooo many people!

There were food stalls set up on pretty much every street around the shrine.

The first of the semi-naked dudes!

Each group of semi-naked dudes was carrying a pole-like structure.

Which they would occasionally set up and then (sometimes) one of the guys would try to climb it.

It should be noted that it was only slightly above freezing, and they were dressed like THAT.

This would be why so many of them were really, really drunk.

Well, also, they had to drink sake as part of the purification ceremony before the festival.
But they kept drinking throughout the day, which meant that the groups got significantly more drunk as time went on.

Also, while carrying the pole, they'd swerve back and forth between the two sides of the street.

We wound up moving down to get a better spot, and also I got some fried satsuma imo dipped in sugar, which sounds bizarre but is delicious, I swear.

All the groups had to pass over this bridge, but because it was slick from mud (and got increasingly slippery over the course of the day), people kept falling on the way down.


If you'll notice, almost all the guys are wearing headbands and most of them are carrying other scraps of cloth as well.  A big part of festival is that the guys will rip off strips of cloth to pass among the audience.  The strips of cloth are like omamori, and are supposed to protect you from bad luck for a year, so you want to gather as many of them as possible.
Basically, this means that every time a group of guys passes, everyone starts yelling, "Oniisan, choudai" ("oniisan" is a polite way of saying "big brother" and "choudai" just means "please").

There were little kids running around semi-nude too.

Abby, Kim, and Meredith, all having a good time.

Meredith and Kim, being the members of our party who looked the most gaijin, definitely got the most attention.

These guys were having a blast.

If you'll notice, some of the guys had stuff written on their backs and fronts and arms and faces and...just generally all over.


...and climbing...

...and climbing...


Here's one of the guys who gave us strips of cloth.

Also, that carton he's holding is full of sake.

It's the REALLY COLD little kid team!  Some of the poor kids looked really miserable.

A bunch of guys were SUPER EXCITED to see gaijin and came over and tried to talk to us in English.  It would usually go something like this:
Us: Hi!
Louki and Kim: The Netherlands!
The rest of us: America!
Us: ...okay?
Guy: HERE.  *thrusts a bunch of strips of cloth at us*

These guys were tearing strips off their flag for us.


Sometimes people would pose for us.

People falling up the bridge...

...people falling down the bridge...

At about this point, this random group of guys stopped in front of Meredith and Kim, whispered among themselves, and then screamed, "BEAUTIFUL!" at them, before running away.


Let's face it: that kid has amazing hair.

Aaaaand falling down the bridge.

It was impressive how many of the guys were covered in mud/blood.


D'awwwwwww, small children.

This guy tore a strip off his loin cloth for Meredith.
Apparently it's really lucky?

This guy had "onna zuki" ("likes girls") written across his chest, and, of course, a couple of the girls in our group started screaming, "ONNA ZUKI!" at him, so he came over to talk to us.

He also had his phone number written on his arm.  Just in case you wanted to get in contact.

This guy is having fun, even if he's probably FREEZING.


A tide of FALLING semi-nude men.

At some point in the proceedings, a guy proposed to Kim.  Not even kidding.  He apparently told her that she should marry him because it would make him happy.  I don't think that's how marriage is supposed to work, but what do I know?

Does this picture make you feel awkward inside?
Or have you gotten used to it by this point?
As one of the girls put it, "I have seen so many butts today that now I don't even notice them. IT'S LIKE THEY'RE NOT THERE."


(That was actually what he was saying too.)

Anyone who has seen Madoka will recognize what's on his back...

The unfortunate thing about drunkenness + mud is that it means a lot of falling over.
Mud and blood, like I said.
A couple of guys fell down the bridge and face-planted right in the mud.  Ouch.

Yes, that guy has Chopper on his back.

And more phone numbers.  A lot of guys had phone numbers written on their backs, actually...  Some had addresses too.


That is a cask of sake.

Like I said, some people were REALLY DRUNK.


A bunch of the girls on the left side (I was on the right) got called "bijin" (beautiful people).  They also got SO MANY omamori.  Like DANG.  Some of them got whole flags and headbands.

Also, the groups that were passing us kept high-fiving all us gaijin.



...then some guys started trying to kiss the girls on the left...

Most of the girls were pretty okay with kisses on the cheeks, but apparently a guy called Kim a "baka gaijin" (stupid foreigner) for not wanting to kiss him on the mouth.  And Grace had a guy grab her and kiss her.  EW. glad that most of them didn't notice me.  Probably helped that all the other girls looked waaaaaaaaaaaaay more foreign than me.

This guy was an English teacher who came over to talk to us and then posed for us.

Poor little kid wearing a jacket... don't want to know the story behind this one.

Let's just say oh geez oh geez.

Dang, these kids have MAD SLEEPING SKILLS.

It might be hard to tell from the picture, but this was the second guy who was carried away on a stretcher (that I saw).  Alcohol poisoning = not fun.


We were getting really cold at this point, so we decided to head back to Nagoya.

Ashley decided that the best possible thing she could do with her haul was use them as hair ribbons.

By the end of the train ride, her ENTIRE HEAD was covered in pieces of cloth.

After that, a bunch of us wound up going to the onsen in Ueda, which was fun, and then we went to get parfaits, because we are totally responsible adults and responsible adults eat parfaits.

So that was our Saturday!
Man.  That post took a really long time to upload.

*Has no one in Japan heard of salting the sidewalks?  I mean seriously.  Some people were hosing them down.  Because, you know, that's such a great idea.


  1. First, I don't think anyone outside of the US has heard of salted sidewalks. This was a problem in Europe last January too.

    Second, those are totally the same type of loincloths as at the fire festival I went to at the beginning of January. We got a bit of attention, but not as much since it was much darker out so people couldn't tell so easily that we were gaijin. Plus they had fire so they couldn't just come up to us XD But similar levels of drunkenness. But I don't know if I would've been comfortable with all the kissing, especially since I stand out a lot more... XD

  2. You missed one of my favorite synonyms: heinies! (from Hank the Cowdog, of course) And how about duffs, keisters and booties?