Mimi says: "Spring has come to Japan. I need to start exercising to slim down so I can fit into my summer clothes!"
Araiguma replies. "What you are talking about? It’s far too early! It's too cold and the weather forecast says it might even snow again this week!"
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When Mimi says “Spring has come to Japan”, she isn't nuts; spring has actually arrived on the calendar. Japanese express this as Koyomi no ue de haru ga kita (暦の上で春が来た – Spring has arrived on the calendar). Koyomi (暦) is Japanese for the Gregorian calender, accepted into use in 1873. Prior to this, Japanese had followed a lunar-solar calendar since the dawn of the history.
Japanese love nature, with every season bringing a rich life of new beauty, so they have divided the Koyomi year to 24 groups, 6 groups per season. February 4th is the first day of the first group of the first quarter, called Rishun (立春 – spring’s appearance). With the arrival of spring comes strong sunlight, lengthening daylight hours, and Japanese plum blossoms begin to bloom. Ancient Japanese noted these slight seasonal changes and named the day in hopes of the coming of spring.
On Rishun eve, Japanese celebrate with a traditional custom called mame maki (豆まき – bean-tossing). They throw roasted soy beans out the entrance or windows, shouting Oni wa soto! (鬼は外 – Out with the trolls!), and then throw beans backward into the house, shouting Fuku wa uchi! (福は内 – In with Good Fortune!)
Oni were creatures from Japanese folklore, with horned faces resembling the mask seen in the picture above. They were huge, and carried great clubs called Kanabo (金棒 – golden clubs). These creatures symbolized evil, scary forces, and were said to appear with the changing of seasons.
By throwing beans at the invisible oni, Japanese ward off bad luck, and by throwing beans back into the house, they welcome happiness and wealth into their lives.
Many shrines or temples hold local festivals, and the most famous invite celebrities and sumo wrestlers to participate. There are also subtle differences in what is shouted. In local areas where people love the oni, they say Oni mo uchi ( 鬼も内 – Oni are also welcome inside!) or simply fuku wa uchi. In such areas, the oni are a symbol of respected strength.
Afterward, celebrants eat roasted soy beans – one for every year of their age, with one added for an upcoming year of health and happiness.
Araiguma says, “so when Mimi turns 100, she has to eat 101 soybeans? Yikes!!”
Mimi says, “I don't want to think about eating more than 50 at a time! They’re delicious and healthy, but they dry out your mouth. Add a little water, and the stomach gets pretty full. 50 is already enough for me.