A few weeks ago I visited the Buddhist temple at Willen, to take the photo at the top of this post: When the nun Marta Anjusan found out that I’ve just turned sixty, she asked me if I was going to be there for the Bean Throwing Ceremony.
I was, because I knew that at last it was my chance to throw the beans.
Anyone whose age is divisible by twelve (born in the year of the pig) is given a bowl full of beans and sweets. When the lights are turned out and everyone starts chanting “good spirits in, bad spirits out”, we piggies throw the beans and sweets up in the air.
The children, who all have little demon masks and are holding paper sweetie bags, dart around on the floor gathering as many sweets and beans as they can.
I aimed the beans at different parts of the shrine room, so they all got a fair chance to gather their swag. A few years ago somebody I know was the right age to be a bean thrower, and he wasn’t throwing them all underhand like he was supposed to.
Instead he was whizzing them at certain targets, and he got me in the ear. I’ve been waiting all these years to get my revenge, but strangely he stayed well out of the way, in the corner behind me. Rats!
This wasn’t the only reason I wanted to throw the beans, of course. The last time it was the year of the pig I wasn’t a temple person; I'd missed my chance.
At another of these ceremonies, I managed to get a clout round the ear from the wife of the Lord High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire. Bad timing on my part, I was taking photos and stood up just as she launched another handful into the eager crowd.
This ceremony is also called Setsubun, which means seasonal division in Japan, where this order of Buddhism is from. Sunday was the 3rd of February, and according to Japan’s old lunar calendar, it was the last day of winter.
The year of the pig is part of the Chinese zodiak, but it’s been happily embraced by Japanese culture. I’m told that us piggies are very stubborn and determined to go only in the direction we think is right.
Sums me up... Oink! Oink!
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