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!
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 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!