Chapter Five. Two Strange Festivals
The other festival I wish, to refer to is that of the Setsubun, which, according to the ancient Japanese calendar, corresponded with the beginning of the natural year - the period when winter first softens into spring. It is what we might term, according to Professor Chamberlain, 'a sort of movable feast'; and it is chiefly famous for the curious ceremony of the casting out of devils - Oni-yarai. On the eve of the Setsubun, a little after dark, the Yaku-otoshi, or caster-out of devils, wanders through the streets from house to house, rattling his shakujo,  and uttering his strange professional cry: 'Oni wa soto! - fuku wa uchi!' [Devils out! Good-fortune in!] For a trifling fee he performs his little exorcism in any house to which he is called. This simply consists in the recitation of certain parts of a Buddhist kyo, or sutra, and the rattling of the shakujo Afterwards dried peas (shiro-mame) are thrown about the house in four directions. For some mysterious reason, devils do not like dried peas - and flee therefrom. The peas thus scattered are afterward swept up and carefully preserved until the first clap of spring thunder is heard, when it is the custom to cook and eat some of them. But just why, I cannot find out; neither can I discover the origin of the dislike of devils for dried peas. On the subject of this dislike, however, I confess my sympathy with devils.
After the devils have been properly cast out, a small charm is placed above all the entrances of the dwelling to keep them from coming back again. This consists of a little stick about the length and thickness of a skewer, a single holly-leaf, and the head of a dried iwashi - a fish resembling a sardine. The stick is stuck through the middle of the holly-leaf; and the fish's head is fastened into a split made in one end of the stick; the other end being slipped into some joint of the timber- work immediately above a door. But why the devils are afraid of the holly-leaf and the fish's head, nobody seems to know. Among the people the origin of all these curious customs appears to be quite forgotten; and the families of the upper classes who still maintain such customs believe in the superstitions relating to the festival just as little as Englishmen to-day believe in the magical virtues of mistletoe or ivy.
This ancient and merry annual custom of casting out devils has been for generations a source of inspiration to Japanese artists. It is only after a fair acquaintance with popular customs and ideas that the foreigner can learn to appreciate the delicious humour of many art-creations which he may wish, indeed, to buy just because they are so oddly attractive in themselves, but which must really remain enigmas to him, so far as their inner meaning is concerned, unless he knows Japanese life. The other day a friend gave me a little card-case of perfumed leather. On one side was stamped in relief the face of a devil, through the orifice of whose yawning mouth could be seen - painted upon the silk lining of the interior - the laughing, chubby face of Otafuku, joyful Goddess of Good Luck. In itself the thing was very curious and pretty; but the real merit of its design was this comical symbolism of good wishes for the New Year: 'Oni wa soto! - fuku wa uchi!'
Since I have spoken of the custom of eating some of the Setsubun peas at the time of the first spring thunder, I may here take the opportunity to say a few words about superstitions in regard to thunder which have not yet ceased to prevail among the peasantry.
When a thunder-storm comes, the big brown mosquito curtains are suspended, and the women and children - perhaps the whole family - squat down under the curtains till the storm is over. From ancient days it has been believed that lightning cannot kill anybody under a mosquito curtain. The Raiju, or Thunder-Animal, cannot pass through a mosquito-curtain. Only the other day, an old peasant who came to the house with vegetables to sell told us that he and his whole family, while crouching under their mosquito-netting during a thunderstorm, actually, saw the Lightning rushing up and down the pillar of the balcony opposite their apartment - furiously clawing the woodwork, but unable to enter because of the mosquito-netting. His house had been badly damaged by a flash; but he supposed the mischief to have been accomplished by the Claws of the Thunder-Animal.
The Thunder-Animal springs from tree to tree during a storm, they say; wherefore to stand under trees in time of thunder and lightning is very dangerous: the Thunder-Animal might step on one's head or shoulders. The Thunder-Animal is also alleged to be fond of eating the human navel; for which reason people should be careful to keep their navels well covered during storms, and to lie down upon their stomachs if possible. Incense is always burned during storms, because the Thunder-Animal hates the smell of incense. A tree stricken by lightning is thought to have been torn and scarred by the claws of the Thunder-Animal; and fragments of its bark and wood are carefully collected and preserved by dwellers in the vicinity; for the wood of a blasted tree is alleged to have the singular virtue of curing toothache.
There are many stories of the Raiju having been caught and caged. Once, it is said, the Thunder-Animal fell into a well, and got entangled in the ropes and buckets, and so was captured alive. And old Izumo folk say they remember that the Thunder-Animal was once exhibited in the court of the Temple of Tenjin in Matsue, inclosed in a cage of brass; and that people paid one sen each to look at it. It resembled a badger. When the weather was clear it would sleep contentedly in its, cage. But when there was thunder in the air, it would become excited, and seem to obtain great strength, and its eyes would flash dazzlingly.