Setsubun at Yasaka Jinja

Each Kyoto shrine has its own attraction for the Setsubun ritual. Some feature special demon costumes. Some invite celebrities. Some prepare extensive gifts and make sure that everyone gets beans. Yasaka Jinja offers dances by maiko (apprentice geisha) for the enjoyment of the gods.

The courtyard at Yasaka was packed with over a thousand people eager to get a glimpse or a photo of the five young maiko. After the dances for the kami, they took part in the bean throwing before bravely making their way through the attendant throng to get their fortunes…

Beans were not as plentiful here as at Shimogamo though there were a lot more people. On the other hand you could take part in a lucky lottery, which produced winners for nearly everyone. Mine was some kitchen cleaning stuff, though the carrier bag with its geisha design had rather more appeal.

Hands reaching up desperate to get the lucky beans and so disspell the disease bearing demons for the coming year

Maiko and priests descend into the throng following the bean-throwing


Afterwards I looked around the small enmusubi (good connections) shrine which, as at other places, has been done up in recent years to capitalise on the current boom among young women for praying for luck in love. The shrine has produced special heart-shaped ema (prayer tablets), some of which bore rather unusual requests. The most surprising was from someone asking to separate from her pig of a boyfriend and hoping that he would die. Hardly appropriate for a heart sign, one might think. (There are actually ‘good separation’ shrines for that kind of thing.)

Enmusubi shrine with a statue of Okuninushi, kami of good connections

Heart-shaped ema, asking to split up from her pig of a boyfriend


Yasaka Jinja does good business for weddings, and next to the shrine is a large wedding hall with a coffee shop where I stopped off after the festivities to get a Zenzai setsubun set consisting of sweet beans (azuki). Afterwards I returned home for the traditional ‘ehoumaki’, which is a long roll of sushi that you eat in the lucky direction for the year. This year it was north-north-west, which I did my best to face as I downed the giant sushi roll as best I could. You’re not supposed to talk or pause, but those things take a lot of scoffing. One hears of elderly people dying every year from getting mochi (rice cakes) stuck in their throat at New Year… I wonder if anyone ever died from a sushi roll !

Zensai set. Available at the Yasaka Shrine wedding hall cafe, and worth knowing about...

Scoffing down an enormous rolled sushi in a north by northwesterly direction

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