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January 30, 2010



So today me & some friends went to Shimokitazawa for the “Tengu Matsuri.”

Buddhism long held that the tengu were disruptive demons and harbingers of war. Their image gradually softened, however, into one of protective, if still dangerous, spirits of the mountains and forests.

Tengu are commonly depicted holding magical hauchiwa (羽団扇), fans made of feathers. In folk tales, these fans sometimes have the ability to grow or shrink a person’s nose, but usually they are attributed the power to stir up great winds. Various other strange accessories may be associated with tengu, such as a type of tall, one-toothed geta sandal often called tengu-geta.

The parade was that of tengu-mask wearing children handing out roasted soybeans, which inevitably got thrown around while people yelled “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (Casting out demons and inviting luck into one’s home).

This special ritual is called mamemaki (豆撒き, lit. bean scattering).

Roasted soybeans (called Fuku mame) are thrown either out the door or at a member of the family wearing an Oni (demon or ogre) mask, while the throwers chant “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (鬼は外! 福は内!). The words roughly translate to “Demons out! Luck in!” The beans are thought to symbolically purify the home by driving away the evil spirits that bring misfortune and bad health with them. Then, as part of bringing luck in, it is customary to eat roasted soybeans, one for each year of one’s life, and in some areas, one for each year of one’s life plus one more for bringing good luck for the year to come.

We followed the parade through the grid style streets – a good chance to scope out the area simultaneously.

Shimokitazawa has a studenty, anti-urban distinctness about it. Not here will you find the shoddy towering tombstones of Shibuya, nor the incessant noise of neon ads scattered about Shinjuku. The architecture fits snuggly between a residential area and the subtle innovation of Daikanyama; like it doesn’t even have to try to be cool. Fortunately, it doesn’t have the Daikanyama pricetag, and is a fabulous spot for vintage/used clothes shopping on a tight budget.

After the first part of the parade, our group went to have a bite to eat. Honestly, it was quite heartbreaking to have to choose just one place – every little back streetwas teeming with every kind of homely cafe, restaurant or bar. As somewhat a difficult gal to please on the cafe front, I was pleasantly suprised by the decor of these places; warm, friendly, with proper furniture that didn’t feel, as most do here, like cheap Ikea knockoffs. Menues were varied (and were seemingly equipped for the vegetarian customer!).

I had Apple & Cinnamon pancakes, which they served with a small jug of maple syurp and pumpkin soup – mmmm!

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