Setsubun

Setsubun literally means, “division of seasons”. In Japan, it usually occurs on February 3, the day before the first day of spring. It has been recognized as the day of beginning of the year as well.

Setsubun is a traditional ceremony to ward off evil. On the evening of this day, people yell, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! (Out with the ogre (devil/demons) ! In with the happiness (good luck) )! ” while scattering patched soy beans, inside and outside their homes.

To pray for good health for that year, it is customary for us to eat the same number of soy beans as our age.

鬼 絵手紙

Illustration: Amanogawa’s Mom

節分

毎年2月3日は節分。日本では、古くから2月4日が春の始まる日、そして1年の始まる日とされてきました。その前日が節分というわけです。
節分は邪気を追い払う伝統行事で、この日の夜、人々は「鬼は外!福は内!」と唱えて炒った大豆を家の内外に撒きます。
その年一年の健康を祈って、自分の年齢と同じ数の豆を食べるのが習わしです。

What is Oni (ogre)?

Actually this oni is a target of symbol of evil that needs to be warded off during the Setsubun, but what are they in the first place?

Oni are imaginary symbols of evil. They were delineated in books since 8th century, and described as current form during the 9th century. Generally, they are depicted as humans with horns and fangs, and naked, but with tiger skin around their haunches. It is said that this originated from the bull’s horns and tiger’s fangs.

Nowadays, we call ruthless people, “a person like Oni”. Oni are familiar to Japanese people and treated as different from ghost.

DSC_0553

Oni often appear in Japanese old tales, but where are they? It is said that they are in a remote area from villages and horrific places. A brave man sets off on his journey to conquer Oni. In olden times, people thought their territory as inside (uchi) and the unknown area as outside (soto).

I think it was important to teach children saying “don’t go outside from there” and threatening like, “there are Oni and they eat you,” in order to protect them from danger. They would recognize that mysterious evil or dangerous creature are present where Oni appears. That’s why people yell, “Get out, Oni!”.

Left: Ogre

Left: Ogre

Well, there are various views about Oni. According to one theory, Oni are foreigners, especially Caucasian.

Akaoni (red ogre) is well-known among Oni. When the Japanese people of those days saw red-faced Caucasian, they were scared of them, as though “they were giant with red skin” or “they were hairy and had superhuman strength”. Since Japanese are of the yellow race with straight black hair, we can imagine that they were astonished seeing well-built Caucasian.

In short, Oni were beyond the imagination of people in the olden times and is also a simple symbol of evil.

red ogre鬼とは何か

この鬼、節分では邪気の象徴として追い払う対象ですが、そもそも何なのでしょう。
想像上の悪の象徴で、8世紀から書物に登場し、9世紀には今の姿で描かれています。鬼はおおよそ人の形をしていて、角と牙をもち、裸で腰に虎の皮をまとっているのが一般的。これは牛の角と虎の牙から来ているといわれています。
今も無慈悲な人でなしを「鬼のような人」と言い、日本人にはなじみのある存在で、幽霊ともまた違ったものとしてとらえられているのです。

日本の昔話でよく登場する鬼は、どこにいるのかというと、集落から離れた場所、おぞましい場所にいつもいるようです。勇敢な者は鬼を成敗するために旅に出るわけですが、昔の人々は自分たちのテリトリーを「内」、見知らぬ領域を「外」と考えていました。
子どもたちに「あそこから外には行ってはいけない」と教えるのは危険から守るために大事なことで、「鬼がいて、お前を食ってしまうんだ」と脅かす必要があったわけです。得体のしれない悪や危険の存在を鬼が出回る場所として、節分で「鬼は外に出ていけ!」と唱えていたのですね。

さて、鬼とは何であるか諸説ありまして、一説には、外国人、とりわけ白人のことだったのではないかという人もいます。
赤鬼は鬼の中でもメジャーですが、昔の日本人が赤ら顔の白人を見て「赤い肌の巨大な男」「毛むくじゃらで怪力だった」と恐れるのもわかる気がします。日本人はみな肌が黄色く、まっすぐな黒い髪であったわけですから、体格のいい白人を見て仰天したと考えることもできるのです。
つまり、鬼とは、当時の人々の想像を超えた存在であり、わかりやすい悪の象徴ということであったのでしょう。