February 3 is Setsubun here in Japan, a day that marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It’s also the beginning of the Lunar New Year, and in Japan it is celebrated with a number of traditions.
Mamemaki is done by almost everyone, and is the tradition of throwing roasted soybeans out the door of the house, sometimes at a person dressed as a demon, while saying, “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi.” “Demons out. Luck in.” This symbolically purifies a home from evil and paves the way for good fortune. Beans go on sale at stores leading up to this event, and many include a paper mask of a traditional demon face that may be worn. Then it is customary to eat one roasted soy bean for each year of one’s life, plus one for the year to come.
Another tradition here in the Kansai area (Osaka, Kobe) is to eat makizushi, or sushi rolls. This must be done in silence, facing the lucky direction (based on the zodiac calendar, this year it is south, southeast), and without cutting the roll. Do this and the wish you make, but may not tell anyone, will come true.
Another tradition is to roast sardines, and it is said that the smoke from the roasting will prevent evil spirits from entering one’s home. The sardine heads are then posted outside the house to keep spirits away. Sardines, as well as makizushi (uncut, of course), are also hot items at the supermarket right now.
(If these traditions sound silly, ask yourself why you throw rice at a wedding, toss a penny into a well, or say a wish when blowing out birthday candles or at the sight of a shooting star.)
After English classes on February 3, all the mothers who came to pick up their children shared that they were serving makizushi for dinner. They took time to gladly explain their traditions to me. As I listened, I was conflicted.
On one hand, I loved that they were sharing with me something that was meaningful to them, a tradition that has been passed down through the generations here in Japan. They were opening up their lives to me, letting me into their hearts.
So what would I do with this piece of their identity, that they trustingly placed in my hands to hold, while knowing the true protection from evil that comes from a loving relationship with Jesus? How do I reveal the love of Christ in such an instance? As I stood there praying, I realized the most Christ-revealing thing I could do right then was to listen, learn and smile.
Now, taking what I learned and the trust I gained through listening, I am praying for even more opportunities to reveal the ultimate source of protection. Protection from evil already is one of the main foci whenever we make an introduction of Jesus. Oh how we wish our friends to embrace this amazing peace that comes from knowing we rest in the hands of the loving Jesus!