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Sweets and Beans

Good spirits in  bad spirits out

In Japan, Spring starts at the beginning of February, and the day before the season starts all across the country there are bean throwing ceremonies where they throw roasted soy beans. There’s usually one in Milton Keynes too, at the Japanese Buddhist temple in Willen. Of course there wasn’t one this year and these photos are from 2015.

The beans are thrown to expel demons and to welcome in good fortune for the new year.

At the Milton Keynes temple they call the ceremony Setsuban, which means ‘seasonal division’.

It’s very much an event for children, which is why a little boy could come up and ‘help’ the High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire make his speech, and all that happened was laughter.

The High Sheriff of Bucks

Along with the soy beans lots of sweets are thrown too, and this makes the ceremony very popular with the children. They all get a bag to put their sweets in and a mask to wear and take home, and it’s all very exciting when the lights go out, and the beans and sweets are thrown into the air.

The adults start chanting. “Good spirits in, bad spirits out” , but the kids are too busy on the floor getting free sweets to bother with chanting.

But who gets to throw the beans? If your age on ceremony day is a multiple of twelve, you can throw the beans. That meant I threw the beans in 2019, aged sixty. I’ll get to do it again in 2031, when I’m 72.

Setsuban in Milton Keynes

Some invited guests get to throw the beans, too. At the ceremony in these photos I received a clout round the ear from the wife of the High Sheriff, when I stood up with the camera too close to the throwers. I’m sure it was an accident!

When the lights come back on and every sweet has been found, the temple’s volunteers go over the whole floor, removing every soy bean they can find. As this is a Japanese temple, no shoes are worn inside, and it isn’t nice to stand on a soy bean when you are in your socks.

This is only one of many ceremonies normally held at the temple or peace pagoda over the year. If the return to normal life goes well, perhaps there will be a few held later this year.


Throwing beans at Setsuban


Children at Setsuban



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