Saturday, February 2, 2019

FLASHBACK: Funny Setsubun Story

Facebook has all kinds of needless, useless features I will just never use. The more features and functions Facebook tries to add to their mobile application, the more frustrated I get. For the longest time, Facebook’s option to swipe left to activate their camera frustrated me. 1 out of 3 or 4 swipes to scroll up resulted in Facebook’s camera being activated. Thankfully they’ve removed that feature.

I never use, nor ever will use Facebook’s "My Story" feature. I have no desire nor interest to use it. Yet it’s always in my face. "Use me! Use me! Use me!" NO!!! I don’t want to use it. Who uses it? Why would I want to do extra work to see people’s individual "stories" when I can already see what they post on my news feed? Which I don’t want to click away from? And yet, whenever I go to messenger, it takes up an entire section at the top. As if it were a priority. As if when I open the messenger, the first thing on my mind is "I need to post to My Story. I need to see other people’s stories." I open the messenger because it’s the only way to read people’s messages. They should create a separate app for "My Stories" for people who care for it.

App developers are getting tricky too. For example, Facebook is now taking it upon itself to remind users of past memories, giving them the option to repost them for auld lang sine. It’s actually a feature I’d totally love if it weren’t for the fact that when you *do* want to share them, the default posting option is, you guessed it, their stupid, idiotic "My Story" feature I don’t ever want to use. On more than one occasion, I shared a memory on "MyStory" by mistake. I found out that, in order to have the post appear on my news feed, I had to manually deselect the My Story” feature, and choose for the post to appear on my news feed. I promptly deleted the posts from “My Story” and re-posted them to appear on my newsfeed as I had originally intended.

This very post was inspired by a memory that Facebook showed me of Setsubun two years ago. For that, I’ve got to be grateful to Facebook. Instead of reposting the memory on Facebook, though, I thought I’d write a blog post about it, because I thought it was a rather funny episode of my life.

Setsubun in 2017
Two years ago, my wife was pregnant with our 3rd son, and she was away at the in-laws with our other two boys. There is this tradition in Japan for mothers to give birth to their children in their hometown, called "satogaeri" (里帰り). It’s rather old, so not all Japanese adhere to it, as it can be cumbersome and it’s always convenient just to birth where you are. As the due date approaches, a Japanese mother makes preparations to move away to her parents’ for a month or two. Reservations are made at a local hospital or "ladies clinic" (産婦人科, sanfujinka), the kids are pulled from school, clothes are packed, and the mother and children move away to her parents’ until a few weeks after the baby is born. A person’s hometown where they were born and raised is called a "jikka." (実家, lit. “true home.”)

Readers might be interested to know that fathers standing by their wives at the moment of birth (立会い, "tachiai") is a rather new phenomenon. Most Japanese are still stuck in the 1950s, where mother births in a separate room while the father-to-be waits in the waiting room until the doctor comes out and announces the child is born. Being a Western father, I, of course, wanted to be there for my wife. Being the breadwinner of the family, I couldn’t move to be with my wife for the her entire duration at her parents’. We live in Osaka, and my wife’s home town is Shimonoseki, the town at the southern tip of Honshu Island. Given the circumstances, we planned so that I would take a couple of weeks off from work to be there the week of our son’s due date; I spent the months of January and February alone at our condominium in Osaka.

What’s a foreigner husband to do alone on Setsubun? Celebrate it, of course!

I’ve already written a post on Setsubun, but for this holiday, observers eat a special sushi roll called "homaki" (恵方巻き, lit. "lucky direction roll") facing the lucky direction of the year on the night of Setsubun.

This year it’s East North East (ENE) by the way.

This year's "lucky direction"

In addition, the father of a household usually wears a mask of an ogre (鬼 "oni") while the mother and the kids throw beans at him yelling "oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!" (鬼は外、福は内! lit. "Out with demons, in with good fortune!") After chasing the “ogre” out of the house, every member of the house eats the number of beans that corresponds to their age, plus one more bean for the year.

Out with demons, in with good luck! ( 鬼は外、福は内!Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!)

East Asian Age Reckoning (数え年 - kazoedoshi)
Incidentally, a long time ago, age was counted differently in Japan, according to an old age reckoning system imported from China. Instead of celebrating people’s birthdays on their birth-date, all of Japan celebrated one collective birthday on New Year's Day. (This was moved from the Lunar calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1873.) In addition, in older times, when a child was born, he was considered to be one year old out of the womb. So the stated age of a Japanese would be 1 to 2 years older than what Westerners might consider a person’s "true age."

For example, a child born on Christmas in December would be said to be 1 year of age. On New Year’s day, s/he’d gain yet another year. So the child, just days old, would be said to be already 2 years old. If the child were born on January 2nd, the child would be "1 year old" at birth, and the next time it would gain a year would be the following new year. Thus, a Japanese person’s stated age could be 1 to 2 years higher than their age according to Western age reckoning. For all intents and purposes, this old system of age reckoning, traditionally known as "kazoedoshi" (数え年), has been rendered obsolete. It does continue to be used unofficially by some, however, such as for religious or divination purposes. And, this system continues to be used in Korea; this is why, if you're familiar with Korean culture, you might come across what is known as "Korean age."

Japanese Gestation Period
Incidentally, the gestation period is counted differently in Japan also. A woman is said to be pregnant for 10 months, not 9. The number of weeks is still the same 40 weeks, but instead of going by a calendar month, the Japanese count in months of precisely 4 weeks each. The first trimester is said to be 15 weeks, and a woman is in her third trimester at 28 weeks. So readers, if you’re thinking of becoming pregnant in Japan, this is something to be aware of.

It's the same 40 weeks, just subdivided differently.

Setsubun Alone
So back to my Setsubun story, I’m all alone, and I decided, just to be funny, to post pictures of myself on Facebook celebrating the traditions of Setsubun, all by myself. I ate the ehomaki, put on an oni mask and threw the Setsubun beans at myself. It made for a good Facebook post. I’m reposting those pictures for this post. Enjoy!

Needless to say, my son was born a healthy boy on February 16th, well into the Gregorian calendar as well as well into the Chinese lunar calendar, making him a solid Year of the Cock, just like his dad! Huzzah for all the Cocks out there reading this! X-D

Makoto "Max" Andrew - 2/16/2017

Related Posts:
Setsubun: Japan's Old New Year

An Asian New Year Tradition: The Lion Dance