Celebrated throughout Japan on Feb. 3, Setsubun is the day when people throw beans and chant “Out with the devil! In with luck!” to drive bad luck out of their homes. Fukuoka is famous for the Hakata Setsubun Festival held at Kushida Shrine. To enter the shrine, you must walk through the mouth of the largest otafuku (“smiling woman”) mask in Japan, which is thought to bring good luck and prosperity in business. Once inside, visitors can enjoy devils dancing and people born under the current Zodiac sign throwing beans.
February is also one of two months in the year when the Grand Kabuki is held at Hakataza, and appearances by the kabuki actors at the shrine serve to liven up the Setsubun Festival. The actors kick off the celebrations with a parade down Kawabata Shopping Street from Hakataza to Kushida Shrine. The Setsubun Festival at Kushida Shrine is said to have begun in the late Edo Period as a lavish ceremony in which people prayed for protection from evil spirits.
There is also a Setsubun Festival held at nearby Tochoji Temple. A special stage is installed in front of the main building, and people dressed as the Seven Gods of Good Fortune and otafuku vigorously scatter beans into the crowd. This is also one of only three days a year when visitors are allowed to view the multi-armed Kannon statue, which is designated as an important cultural asset. Created in the Heian Period, the statue is only 87 cm tall, but the craftsmanship is exquisite.
The word setsubun originally refers to four different days, that is, the eve of the first day of each season in the lunar calendar (The two kanji literally mean “seasonal division”). People used to think that evil spirits (“devils”) would come out when the seasons changed, so they started holding ceremonies to drive them away. The tradition of throwing beans dates back to a Heian Period Chinese court custom for warding off spirits. Setsubun gradually changed over the generations, and since the Edo Period, it has come to refer to the day before the first day of spring on the lunar calendar (around Feb. 4).
2013 Setsubun Festival at Kushida Shrine – info here.