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Ogres on aisle two

It started out like most of my early adventures at grocery gathering in Japan. Shopping basket dangling from one elbow, I pushed our one-year-old son’s stroller through the narrow aisles of the supermarket. With only about two months in Japan under my belt, I still felt conspicuous in my unfamiliarity with Japanese foodstuffs.

Suddenly an unintelligible (to me) announcement came over the PA system, and a crowd began to amass in the bakery area. What in the world was going on? An apron-clad store worker began distributing small bags of beans. Someone pressed a small packet of peanuts into my hand.

All at once, two men in brightly-colored wigs and demon-faced masks burst onto the scene. They galloped around the displays of croissants and bread sticks like ornery ogres stirring up trouble among slumbering villagers.

Ah, but we were armed and ready! We shoppers banded together and let fly with our beany ammunition. Plastic packages pelted the hapless hooligans until they beat a hasty retreat to the safety of the stock room.

It wasn’t until I debriefed at home with my husband that I learned I had been conscripted into a Setsubun festivity.

On February 3 each year, Japanese observe Setsubun as a commemoration of the day before the beginning of spring. Various practices and rituals make up Setsubun, including eating an entire uncut roll of sushi in one go, putting up small decorations to ward off evil spirits, and wearing costumes or disguises. The grocery store antics I witnessed are a version of throwing roasted soybeans or peanuts to chase bad luck and demons out of one’s home.

Though not a day off from work or school, Setsubun events happen at Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines throughout the country, the more prominent of which are televised. Attendees may hope to catch some of the small envelopes with money, sweets, candies, and other prizes tossed by priests and invited guests.

By Audrey, an OMF missionary

Photo credit: ©Christian Kaden

Will you pray for Japan?

  • Pray for wisdom for Japanese Christians as they encounter such traditional festivals in their daily lives.
  • Pray that Japanese people will find true hope in Christ.
  • Pray for new missionaries as they struggle to do simple daily tasks like grocery shopping as well as more complex tasks like learn the language and culture.


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