A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

MORE LOCAL CUSTOMS: DANGO-BURUMAI (団子振る舞い)- In Some Parts of Ibaraki Prefecture, 42-Year-Old Men are Presented Rice Dumplings (dango) AND Some New Underwear!

Yaku-Yoke Dango (厄除け団子)- Rice Dumplings for Those at an Unlucky Age, sold at Shimotsuma`s Taiho Hachiman Shrine

By Avi Landau


On the evening of February 3rd, which is called SETSUBUN, families throughout Japan perform a popular ritual called MAME MAKI (literally- bean throwing). What happens is this: one member of the household, usually the father, dons a demon mask  ( most often a simple paper job), while the rest of the family pelts him with soy beans ( or occassionally peanuts) while shouting ONI WA SOTO, FUKU WA UCHI ( Evil out, good fortune in) ! Then everyone eats their own age worth of beans. The original idea for doing this was to spiritually purify the home and fortify the body on what was then the New Year ( according the the old, luni-solar calendar),  but these days most people probably do it JUST FOR THE FUN OF IT (and it IS lots of fun) !

However, some people in certain neighborhoods of Tsuchiura city ( and other parts of Ibaraki Prefecture), more specifically MEN at what has traditionally been considered their UNLUCKIEST AGE (42),  go out AFTER their BEAN-THROWING  CEREMONIES  for an extra ( and quite rare) event- what is known as DANGO-BURUMAI (だんごぶるまい)- or a rice dumpling presentation party. These are usually held at  Japanese style restaurants or pubs, and the 42 year-olds are joined by their best friends, male neighbors, and closest male relatives. In some neighborhoods all the men of unlucky age ( if there are more than one) are invited out for this occasion by the other men in the neighborhood.

As the name of the event suggests, the 42 year-old special guests are given DANGO- little balls of pasty rice, a traditional snack which is eaten or given away on the occasion of reaching an unlucky age. In fact,  each 42-year-old man receives 42 of them!

And something which you might find more surprising- besides the DANGO, each SPECIAL GUEST will receive some new underpants! That’s right- a gift of underpants from their male friends! Sounds strange! But let me explain.

According to traditional beliefs, those who reach an unlucky age are susceptible to negative energies which can lead to sickness or accidents. These negative powers are called YAKU ( 厄 ), and what is done to deal with its presence on and around your body is known as YAKU OTOSHI, literally dropping off the YAKU. February has traditionally been a popualr time for Ceremonies to get rid of YAKU, since that was traditionally the time of year (  New Year`s according to the old calendar) when all people were considered to have aged by one year together in one mass birthday.

And though these days most people of unlucky age go to one of the popular shrines which specialize in ridding people of YAKU ( especially the KAWASAKI DAISHI in Kawasaki), where they are blessed by a priest and can buy special amulets,  in past generations it was common to symbolically DROP OFF THE YAKU by DROPPING things.

In Ibaraki Prefecture, it was customary for 42 year-olds to visit a shrine at or around SETSUBUN ( Feb. 3rd), get rid of their old underwear, put on a new loincloth ( fundoshi), and stuff it with rice cakes ( mochi) and coins. They would then walk in such a way that the objects in their crotch would fall out. They should not LOOK BACK as they do this.

As the coins and rice cakes come tumbling down, others scramble to pick them up off the ground. This is considered to be very lucky, especially for young boys ( though you sure as hell wont find me touching stuff that has fallen out of anyone’s loincloth!).

Though the practice of DROPPING certain items- mochi, dango, TENUGUI handkerchiefs, coins or articles of clothing IS still practiced by some people in certain parts of Japan, the custom of first stuffing them into the loincloth is not common at all any more ( though it does still exist).

Upon first hearing about it, I felt that the DANGO BURUMAI parties held in Tsuchiura with the gifts of underwear and dango, were a modern-day, toned down, cleaner version of the dropping-the-dango-from the loincloth custom, as it involved the same basic elements- DANGO and something worn around the loins- and this may be true.

However, I have recently learned from a Chinese acquaintance that in China ,giving RED UNDERWEAR to people ( especially women) of an unlucky age is a common custom !

A Yaku-Yoke Fundoshi (厄除け褌)- a loincloth presented to men at an unlucky age ( 25, 61 and especially 42). Note that they come with two curious designs – one of phallic radishes and the other of lightning-shaped strips of paper (the same as the sumo grand champions hang over their crotches!

A shrine located near Tsukuba which is famous for its YAKU YOKE DANGO is the Taiho Hachiman Shrine in Shimotsuma City.

Getting to witness a DANGO BURUMAI party is a more difficult matter, however. I have never been to one myself, by I have heard ALL ABOUT the ones held over the years in the HITANA neighborhood of Tsuchiura. Though last year there were no 42 year-olds in the neighborhood ( and thus , no party) this year SIX  UNLUCKY-AGED gentlemen will be received some delicious DANGO and some nice, new UNDIES. Sounds lucky to me!


  • alice says:

    Haha! This is something new to me! Another interesting information. The Chinese used to eat the dango (cooked in syrupy water)corresponding to their age during “Dong Zhi” or Winter Solstice Festival. Due to Chinese influences, I think there are some similarities in the Japanese culture although it is observed in different ways or on a different day.

  • Mamoru Shimizu says:

    Sweet old loincloth! Avi-san you really know many Japanese customs! Amazing! I don’t know many rural ones especially.
    The loincloth is very suitable underwear for men in the Japanese climate. Almost all Japanese men before WWII used them. My step-father was a former family court judge and he loved them made of silk. I was presented one but wore it only a few times because I felt that somehow it not fit me.

    Now very few men use them. One famous famous wearer was the writer Mishima Yukio (known for his novels Kinkakuji:金閣寺 Rokumeikan:鹿鳴館 with beautiful sentences), who committed suicide in 1970(Seppuku:hara-kiri:cut belly, Then was-beheaded inside the Self Defense Force Headquarters in Yotsuya. I think Roman solders wore loincloths, suitable for when they remained near the Mediterranean In Germania,did they get cold?

    It was very unique and lucky for the Shimozuma-man-of-42years to be presented Dango and a loincloth from his intimate friends. For my case I just visited (alone) the famous Yushimma-Tenjin(God of Passing Entrance Examinations: See Avi-san’s recent article ) in Tokyo and asked that the priest bless me to with a “Farewell to all my imaginable bad lucks”. This cost around 10 thousand yen. Then I went to my usual bar and sang a song “La-La-Bye-Bye-Bad-Luck”! around 20 years ago, so I guess it must have worked somehow.

    By the way today finally I was able to visit the Miracle-Working-Stone of Hanamuro-Amida-Nyorai (Avi-san introduced Jan.21) and prayed 5 minutes for many things, put one round pebble in front of The Holy stone, and took one for my future visit. I will polish it as gem-stone like other pebbles over there. I began to like the word “pebble”!!

  • Kei says:

    In China unlucky years are every twelve years on our birth years according to the Chinese zodiac. That means someone is in their unlucky year at 12, 24, 36, 48, 60 and so on. Many Chinese wear red underwear everyday during those years. Red is a lucky color that keeps misfortune away.