Of Good and Evil

Courtesy of Sojiji Temple
Inukko-Maki—Throw a Small Dog?!
What a ridiculous idea.  Literally translated, however, that is more or less what the Inukko-maki festival name means.  I suppose to be kind maki could be translated as “to broadcast” in the sense of “broadcasting seeds”.  Or even “distribute”.  Nevertheless both are only marginally better than “to throw”.

Children’s masks of a demon, an Otafuku—lady who brings happiness—and a toy dog are all part of Mame-Maki.  Kaori Yamaki Photo © Copyright
Festivals in Japan are often visual spectacles as well as being charming, compelling and sometimes dramatic.  Hardly a day goes by without a festival taking place somewhere at sometime throughout the year.  Some are religious and are full of ritual and ceremony.  Others are based on customs, folklore or much more simply associated with superstitions.  A number of annually celebrated festivals have a universal character and are honoured all over the country, more or less at the same time.  Some are highly involved and yet may not have much regional colour or idiosyncrasies.  New Year celebrations roughly fall into this category, although it is still possible to find some variations.  In some cases a festival becomes personalised simply because of the way the essence of a celebration is scaled down or enacted at a family level.  Mame-maki is one of those.

A hand-painted image of a demon 
on a Japanese kite.
(Maker unknown)
Setsubun, marking the beginning of spring, is celebrated at the beginning of February.  It is one of those festivals which are celebrated at a very public level with news coverage as well as in people’s homes up and down the country—in this case much to the delight of small children.

When my son and daughter were small and we lived on the outskirts of Tokyo, we followed the prescribed rituals to a T along with other families with children in the neighbourhood.  Mame in this case are roasted soya beans and maki in this particular instance really does mean to throw with some vengeance.

The idea is to banish any ogres or demons disseminating evil that may be hiding in your home while also welcoming good luck and happiness into your midst.  As you hurl roasted soya beans into the dark corners where evil may be concealed you shout “Oni wa soto—Get out you evil demons” followed by “Fuku wa uchi—Welcome happiness”.  It is not only the dark corners of rooms that are the target of this attack.  Doorways and windows or any other possible lairs of evil too take a peppering accompanied by shrieks of delight tinged with a slight feeling of fear from young children as they go about the task of cleansing the home in a manner which would not normally be condoned.  Someone takes a turn at being a demon by putting on a cardboard mask, thus adding to the fun.  Also, to ensure good luck in the year ahead you are supposed to eat the same number of beans as your age.

It takes more than one or two people to make three to four thousand Inukko.  Yoshiko Daiku Photo © Copyright
What has this to do with throwing small dogs?  In essence the aim is the same—banishing evil and hoping for happiness—but achieving it in a different way.

Yoshiko Daiku Photo © Copyright
The dog is one of twelve animal zodiac signs in Chinese astrology and a symbol offering protection from evil.  In Japan it is often seen as a protector of young children.  Perhaps this is inevitable.  After all humankind as a whole was quick to recognise this from very early times.

Well, admittedly I am rather playing with words.  The small dogs are actually miniaturised representations of a dog or even other animals in the zodiac.  They are made by mixing rice flour with hot water into a modelling consistency.  The “throwing” is simply a means of distribution—the distribution of a little good luck and protection, rather in the way in which chasing out evil and welcoming in happiness is hoped for in the Mame-maki festival.

At the Sojiji temple and others on the Noto Peninsular the Inukko-maki festival is an established date in the annual calendar.  It takes place on different days in March and is well attended.  Unlike my own household’s energetic activities at Setsubun, Inukko-maki is not replicated at home, although some families will set ceramic model dogs outside windows on the north side of a house to keep evil spirits at bay. 

It is not only model dogs which are made.  The other zodiac animals such as snakes and birds are also seen as being just as lucky.  Yoshiko Daiku Photo © Copyright
At Sojiji temple some three to four thousand little figures are made and tossed out into the throng of people who have come to try and bag some protection and happiness.  Some people will eat them while others will place the guardian figures in their porches where they dry out and become very hard.  Many people place one of the little figures in a small bag and carry it around as a talisman to ward off evil.  At Soto sect temples this festival takes place after a service to mark the passing of the Buddha.  The size of the little figures and the chosen animal from the zodiac are different from temple to temple.  The festival itself is a special feature of these temples in Noto.

At Sojiji Temple as at others in Noto, the throwing of Inukko to the hopeful is a happy event.  Yoshiko Daiku Photo © Copyright

Yoshiko Daiku Photo © Copyright
A larger model of Inukko perhaps destine to be displayed in a porch.  Yoshiko Daiku Photo © Copyright
What do all these customs and superstitions mean?  To be brutal they mean nothing.  And yet they mean everything if the result is a feeling of satisfaction and comfort.  And so, people continue throwing beans and small dogs.

Gateway to Sojiji Temple Akio Sakaguchi Photo © Copyright

My thanks to Yoshiko Daiku and Akio Sakaguchi for their photographs and reports.  I must also acknowledge the cooperation of Sojiji Temple.

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