Japan celebrates spring in February
by James Lamont
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To reflect on different traditions for welcoming spring.
Preparation and materials
- Find images of Japanese spring festivals.
- Note that, when reading the Japanese words below, there is no stress on any syllable, so you may want to practice them.
- Find ‘The lark ascending’ by Vaughan Williams or ‘Spring’ from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and have the means to play the music in the assembly (optional).
- In the UK, we celebrate the beginning of spring on 21 March, but not all countries do. In Japan, according to the Japanese lunar calendar, spring begins on 3 or 4 February each year.
- This is seen as a chance to drive out the evil of the previous year and start the New Year afresh. Evil spirits are banished by throwing soya beans around your house or at temples and shrines and chanting, ‘Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!’This means, ‘Demons out! Happiness in!’ Sometimes a family member wears a demon mask and has soya beans thrown at him or her.
- In the past, it was also common to place sardine heads at the door of the house, as it was thought that the smell would drive away evil spirits. Today, some people use fish head charms made from paper and other materials instead. Roast soya beans and masks can be easily acquired at supermarkets and convenience stores across Japan. Many Japanese visit temples and shrines to mark the occasion.
- The desire to keep evil spirits out of the house relates to a distinction commonly drawn in Japan between the home and outside. Japanese people always remove their shoes when entering someone’s house, to maintain the cleanliness of the house. They also shower before taking a bath, so as to cleanse themselves before bathing.
- Such rituals of cleaning and creating purity are common across the world. ‘Spring’ cleaning takes place in many civilizations, even though spring may be in ‘autumn’ according to where you are on the globe!
- Christians are baptized to wash away their previous sins and many Christians confess their sins to cleanse their souls to receive absolution. Muslims must wash before praying. The desire to clean our spaces and bodies is a common human need, but how we represent these actions in our religions shows the diversity of different cultures.
Time for reflection
Shouting at demons and throwing soya beans may strike you as a bit odd, but take a few moments now to reflect on how odd some Western practices are to those from the East.
I wonder if you have any such little rituals that you stick to? Washing your hands, which is sometimes essential, can become a fixation . . . could you think of these as demons, to be driven out by ‘shouting’ at them, maybe in your mind?
It’s sometimes hard for us to think about spring when February can be such a cold, dark month. Some habits can also become oppressive, like February weather, if we let them.
Spend a few moments relishing the signs of spring that are already visible – bulbs beginning to come through, very early flowers opening – and think how much better your life would be if you didn’t do those strange little things you do and banished them like the Japanese do evil spirits.
We all enjoy the promise of spring. Let’s quietly enjoy some music together now that will put us in a springlike mood.
‘The lark ascending’ by Vaughan Williams or ‘Spring’ from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons