The day before Risshun, the first day of spring on the lunar calendar, is called Setsubun. In Kyoto this is typically the coldest period of the year, making that day one on which the anticipation of spring is at its most concentrated. Owing to a very concrete understanding of the abstract concepts of inside and outside the home, and to the symbolic value of Setsubun as being like a “doorway” between two very different seasons, there are acts that signify its importance. People place a sort of wreath decoration comprising holly and a dried sardine’s head at the entrance of their house. They eat a special variety of sushi, ehomaki, solely at this time. And they engage in a playful ritual where they stand at the entrance to the home and toss handfuls of soybeans out into the open. “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!” they shout, “Demons out, good fortune in!” And it’s said that if one eats the number of soybeans equal to one’s years, plus one, it’ll add another healthy year to their life. The Setsubun festival at the Yoshida Mountain shrine in Kyoto attracts tens of thousands of pilgrimages over three days annually.
4th and 5th
The lunar calendar has 24 seasonally designated periods, and Risshun represents the beginning of the cycle. It falls around the fourth or fifth of February, specifically when the sun reaches a 315 degree position in the sky. The night that precedes it was thought of since antiquity as a special portal through which the entire previous year “passes away”, and the days following are the traditional lunar New Year. It’s still rather chilly in Kyoto, but with the sun high against the horizon and the days seeming longer, these days become a meditation on the subtle heralds of spring to come. On these mornings Zen temples post talismans at their entrances with symbols representing the spring and good fortune.