Authorities are warning parents to take extra care with children eating soybeans during Saturday's Setsubun festival.
Setsubun marks the day before the beginning of spring, according to the lunar calendar. The festival involves a ritual called mamemaki, traditionally intended to drive away the evil and disease of the former year. The ritual involves throwing roasted soybeans around a property or place of work.
The soybeans, called "fortune beans" or fuku mame, are thrown either at a doorway or at a member of the family wearing an oni (demon or ogre) mask, while the other family members shout Oniwa soto! Fukuwa uchi ("Demons out! Good luck in!"
It is then 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.
The Consumer Affairs Agency and the National Center for Child Health and Development on Friday issued a caution to parents to be careful about letting young children swallow the soybeans. In recent years, there have been cases of children aged between nine months and four years old being taken to hospitals for treatment after choking on the beans, health authorities say.
Health officials say it is possible for a soybean to lodge in a child's bronchial tract for one or two days before being discovered.
On Saturday, Setsubun festivals were held at various temples across Japan, with celebrities in attendance.
Sumo grand champions Kisenosato and Hakuho tossed beans into the crowd at Naritasan Shinshoji Temple in Narita, Chiba Prefecture. At a temple in Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture, actresses Wakana Aoi and Eri Tokunaga took part in the proceedings.© Japan Today