A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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December 2009, vol 5 no 4

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Nancy James


Beans for Good Luck

Setsubun, February third—last day of Japanese winter. Time to drive out grayness and cold, bring in the promise of spring. Time for the mantra Oni-wa soto! Fuku-wa uchi! “Out with the demons! In with good luck!”

At temples priests in dark robes collect donations of yen, hand out short blue kimonos and boxes of roasted soy beans. Vested in the borrowed regalia, men, women, children—even the odd foreigner—mount to the balcony, intone the charm, empty their boxes over the rail.

Below, waiting hands raise shopping bags, cardboard cartons, blankets—anything large enough to capture a few falling seeds. Those who came unprepared make do with hats, purses, the hoods of their coats. Somewhere between platform and ground, the same beans that drive out the devil become a catcher’s good fortune.

Chants in chilly air:
winter gloom shouted away
blessings beckoned in.

Tonight at home, the same celebrants will eat one bean for each year since their birth. They will chant, pelt one another with gleanings from the temple, finally fling the beans soto—out the window. Children will sleep with a picture under their pillows for good dreams: the Takara-Bune, ship that bears the Seven Lucky Gods.

Splitting the seasons
our ship plows toward longer light
recycles dry hopes.

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