friday i was invited to attend a kindergarten for their celebration of setsubun, which occurs every year on the 3rd or 4th of february. this holiday marks the start of spring and signifies a cleansing of bad spirits from the past year.
oni is the very tangible symbol of these bad spirits. in japanese folklore he is a demon of incredible strength and terrifying stature. it seems most kids here are familiar with this character through a playground game identical to tag in which one person is designated oni. as the “eigo no sensei”, i have become accustomed to playing oni every week. so, when i was asked to dress up as the feared star of setsubun, i felt fully prepared.
katie and i were outfitted in red and green sweatsuits with padded arms and chest, tiger skin shorts, wigs and masks. we were instructed to hide behind a curtain as the students gathered to listen to the principle talk about the holiday. just the mention of oni brought a couple kids to tears. however, teachers provided methods of protection; cups of roasted soybeans to throw and a chant, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” [Demons out! Luck in!]
the curtain was then opened just enough to reveal a large painted cutout of oni. teachers urged kids to come forward to pelt him with beans. only a few could make it up there before katie and i jumped out and began our chase. as we ran into the crowd, kids scattered, screaming and attempting to hide behind their teachers. the room turned into a few giant clumps of crying kids, who latched onto one another and tried their best to move as a group in the opposite direction of us.
the terrorizing went on for about ten minutes and by the end, the floor was coated in crushed beans. the kids terror seemed to turn into rage as their chanting became louder and more assertive, eventually chasing us out of the room. later on, katie and i went into each classroom where we made peace with the kids by shaking hands and accepting apologies and promises to to never misbehave again.