As Setsubun marks the day before spring, it was formerly thought of as a new years eve, and thus accompanied by a special ritual of mame-maki (bean scattering) to cleanse away the ill and evil of the previous year and ward off disease-bringing spirits. Soybeans are thrown either out the door or at a member of the family wearing an oni (demon) mask, while the throwers chant "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" literally, "Demons out! Luck in!" To bring good luck in, people eat the soybean- one for each year of one's life, and in some areas, plus one more for the year to come. In Kyoto, Setsubun is celebrated at various shrines, but especially lively is Yoshida Shrine, where on the evening of Feb. 2nd, demons of various colors representing different misfortunes are scared away. The next day, talismans from the year are burned in a bonfire seven meters high as a kind of "holy fire" to scare away the demons. Food and game stalls line the front of the shrine on both days. At Mibu-dera, a special setsubun kyogen (Buddhist Noh pantomime) is performed. This comical play is accompanied by a Sho gong, as well as a taiko drum and flute. It is put on several times a day over 2 days. Other rituals follow, one in which clay plates are handed out to visitors to write the names and ages of family members to protect against misfortune and bring good luck. The plates are later smashed during a later kyogen play in April. The first 1000 visitors to Mibu-dera on Feb. 4th also recieve a special ozenzai (sweet azuki bean soup) treat.
Other Events in February
Geisha and maiko host an outdoor tea ceremony beneath the plum blossoms at Kitano-tenmangu Shrine. There is a special offering ceremony of plum blossoms for Heian era scholar/politician Sugawara Michizane on this day which marks the anniversary of his death. Sugawara loved plum blossoms.
At Daigo-ji temple, a special ceremony/weight-lifting contest is held in which participants compete to see who can lift a 90kg mochi rice cake for the longest amount of time. A deity that prevents theft is worshipped on this day.