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Setsubun Obake - Haunt and Laugh, the Ceremony to Drive the Evil Spirits Away!

Setsubun Obake - Haunt and Laugh, the Ceremony to Drive the Evil Spirits Away!

Translated by Yuko Perry

Written by Keishi Kawakami

Kyoto 2015.04.17 Bookmark

Setsubun is a cute holiday that involves children throwing beans at their masked fathers. Want to know more? Let's find out together!

In Japan, there is an event called Setsubun(節分) which occurs around 2nd February. According to the calendar, it happens on about 'the first day of spring' the weather is supposed to begin to turn mild from that day.

It is believed that evil spirits draw near when season changes. Therefore, people have perfomed traditional ceremonies since ancient times where they throw soy beans to drive evil spirits away and pray for perfect health for the year ahead. People not only throw beans, but they also eat the same number of beans as their age (or plus 1), which is also believed to expel the bad spirits.

Beyond Extraordinary

Maiko as usual

In Kyoto, people have another Setsubun event called 'Setsubun Obake'. This is not well known yet even in Japan.

People masquerade and pay a visit to shrines and temples. Geisha girls and Maiko, the apprentices, wear unusual make-up and costumes to give performances at banquets. Unusual make-up and clothes are used to fool the evil spirits which prevail around the time of Setsubun.

Now, what is the 'Setsubun Obake' like? I went to one of the banquets to show you.



Two geisha girls strut onto the stage. The audience already starts laughing aloud at the funny and strange costumes.

The first performance is 'Sanja Matsuri',

then, the next performance is 'Dojou Sukui'.

Actually, geisha girls never use songs like these two at their usual banquets. It is only the performance for the Setsubun Obake which allows them to be silly. Inviting geisha or maiko girls to a banquet is an unusual occurrence for most people. For people who are accustomed to geisha performances, this setsubun performance is even funnier because of the gap between their usual beauty and grace as perfect geishas and their appearance and behaviour as comedians.

Look at the picture. As the geisha girls take their masks off, people expect to see their beautiful faces...


Whatever happened to them!

This is completely different from the usual geisha appearance, and the make-up make them look more like mischievous old chaps.

You can see the great transformation.
The difference between the two images is a new sensation.

The third performance is based on a popular comedian's latest catch phrase, 'Attakaindakara' (It's warm, you see). They do not miss the latest trends.

Finally we are given the beans to throw by the geisha girls. We will pray for our health and throw them around.

The banquet comes to an end...

Off the girls go like the wind, the next banquet.

As they have to manage 30 to 40 banquets per day, they are pretty busy for 3 days around Setsubun day.

Passing on the Traditional Culture

At the banquet I went to, the geisha girls said they started practising a month ago. As they are always occupied with their usual training in dance and singing, they had to prepare betweentimes.

They can achieve this great effort simply because of the passion of people in Gion(祇園), Koto to pass on the traditional events of Setsubun and Setsubun Obake to the next generation and to let a greater number of people know the tradition and enjoy it.

'Share the good fun and pray for happiness', Kyoto's Setsubun Obake might give you a feeling of good will.

Kyoto Travel Guide

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