Whereas in many parts of Japan the roadside statues of the Buddhist saint named “Jizo” is left open to the elements, the people of the Hokuriku region (Fukui, Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures) express their strong devotional ties to Buddhism by wrapping up the Jizo statues and shrines.
On February 3rd in homes throughout Japan, family members will walk through the rooms of their home throwing beans (mamemaki) in a purifying ritual. While tossing the beans family members will shout oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi (demons out, good luck in) as if to bring about fortuitous luck in the upcoming year. It is common for one person to
play the role of the oni (demon) in this ritual. Often the father of the household is relegated to this job. During this period of seasonal change, like others, was believed to have been a time when evil spirits and monsters gathered, and caused plagues and other disasters. Family members will also eat an amount of beans in accordance with their individual ages sometimes adding one. The addition of one bean may be a symbolic assurance of living another year or may reflect kazoedoshi (a traditional method of counting age in which the one year is counted for time in the womb). Beans are eaten so as to ward off evil and increase resistance to illness.
What does the fox say? Not a lot actually. When a young fox appeared in our neighborhood this past year, despite being wild, it was not particularly alarmed by the presence of humans. So much in fact, that it didn’t budge when children and parents burst out of the local elementary school gymnasium after the children’s performance had finished.
Perhaps the fox’s arrival was a response to the flattening of local forested mountains in the creation of large-scale solar panel farms.
In one sense, the fox’s arrival was reassuring though, because earlier last spring as I was doing my morning jog two phantom shapes crossed in front of me. Their speed, mixed with my surprise, as well as a hazy, early morning twilight, left some uncertainty in my own mind as to what I had seen. It was a sort of dreamy experience. But now I am pretty confident that I had seen what I had seen.