News & Stories


A new beginning from the true ‘heart-man’

Avoiding bad luck or misfortune is something even non-religious Japanese take seriously. Religion, legends, local customs, and auspicious and inauspicious days stipulated by the calendar all feed into superstitions that motivate people to take measures to protect themselves from an unseen spiritual enemy, just to be on the safe side.

Traditionally Setsubun (meaning “dividing seasons”) took place four times a year to drive out evil and misfortune before the new season started. Nowadays it occurs only once a year, the day before Risshun (the first day of spring), which generally falls on the 4th of February on the modern calendar.

Setsubun is seen by many Japanese as little more than a comical event in modern times, where children throw hard dry beans at someone dressed like an ogre and chant ‘Devil out, luck in’, but many regional festivals held at temples and shrines expand on the theme in a more intense way.

Perhaps you have seen Setsubun events in which men in matching loincloths and headbands dash collectively into a freezing cold river in the hope that this discomfort will purge any misfortune that might befall them in the coming year. At one such festival a man is chosen as the Shin-Otoko: literally ‘heart-man.’ He plays the role of a scapegoat. The bad luck set to befall any man who touches him is said to be transferred on to him.

These festivals and others like them throughout the year are often seen as a light-hearted way of promoting community spirit, but they also keep multitudes caught up in an unexamined animistic worldview. Japanese considering the Christian faith are often afraid to step out of this mind-set, either out of fear of retribution from the spirit world, or rejection from their family and friends.

April is the beginning of the year for schools and companies in Japan (and when the weather really becomes spring-like!). Let’s pray that many Japanese will experience a new beginning by experiencing the freedom the Gospel brings, with the true ‘heart-man’ Jesus taking upon himself all sin. He is the one who sets us free from every claim the evil one has on our lives.

By Alison, an OMF missionary

Share this post

Get Involved

Have Questions? Send us an email.

To help you serve better, kindly fill all the fields (required). Your query will be routed to the relevant OMF team.

Contact Form

By clicking Submit, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with the terms in our Privacy Policy.

You’re on the OMF International website.
We have a network of centres across the world.
If your country/region is not listed, please select our International website.