Sunday, February 3rd is Setsubun. Setsubun is a bean throwing festival to celebrate the beginning of Spring on the traditional lunar calendar. Traditionally, the father in a family will put on a demon mask and enter the house – upon which he will be pelted by the resident children with roasted soy beans while shouting ‘oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!‘ (demons out, happiness in!) In the neighbourhood where I worked, the local business association would dress up two of their members as devils and would stop by stores around the neighbourhood – where bean throwing (known as mamemaki) and alcohol consumption would ensue.
If you live alone, you could just throw beans at yourself, or you could get out and be part of the festivities. There are plenty of festivals – many with famous people (who you won’t recognise unless you consume a steady diet of Japanese TV) joining in with the mamemaki. We recommend the following events for your bean throwing pleasure.
About 3,000 people are expected to turn up at Zojo-ji temple in Shiba, Minato Ward on Sunday from 12 noon until 1pm for a mamemaki event. Zojoji is an iconic temple located near the base of Tokyo Tower in Shiba Park. No celebrities have been announced, but given the proximity to where they all live, there will probably be a few. The closest stations are Inarimon and Shiba Stations on the Toei Mita Line and Daimon Station on the Toei Asakusa and Oedo Lines.
Another temple at which you can see the devils off (in a particularly nice setting) is Ikegami-Honmonji in Ikegami, Ota Ward. Their mamemaki festival (link in Japanese) takes place from 3pm on Sunday. They have a long list of semi-celebrities, fighters and professional wrestlers turning up – the only of whom I recognised were MMA fighter Kid Yamamoto and retired professional wrestler Akira Hokuto. The temple is 10 minutes walk from Ikegami Station on the Tokyu Ikegami Line which runs from Gotanda Station of Yamanote Line fame.
For something a little different, head to Nishiarai-daishi temple in Arakawa Ward for a Daruma Burning festival (link in Japanese). Daruma are an egg shaped doll of a hirsute and slightly angry looking man. They have a strong connection with Buddhism and are believed to bring luck. As a reward for their work in bringing luck over the previous year, the daruma at Nishiarai-daishi will be ceremonially burned in a bonfire. There will also be mamemaki. The festivities will happen between 3 and 4pm on Sunday with about 15,000 people expected to attend. Closest stations are Nishiaraidaishi-nishi Station on the Nippori-Toneri Liner and Daishi-mae Station on the Tobu Daishi Line. To get to Daishi-mae, head to Kita-Senju and take the Tokyo Sky Tree Line to the north. As the name suggests, the Nippori-Toneri Liner leaves from Nishi Nippori.
Apart from Setsubun, if you have the good fortune to work in a tall building in Tokyo or Yokohama, the next few days are the most likely for witnessing a twice yearly phenomenon – a ‘Diamond Fuji‘ – in which the setting sun descends directly into Mount Fuji’s plug hole.
The Cheapo Weekend is a rundown of cheap and free events in Tokyo each weekend. If you have any cheap or free events you think we should include, drop us an email on tokyocheapos [at] gmail.com.