Well, my next-door neighbors have adorned the outside of their door with what appears to be a mummified fish head skewered on a twig of holly. Yes, it must be that time of year.

A quick Google search reveals that this is just one of the many frightening ways in which Japanese people celebrate the beginning of spring, commonly referred to as setsubun.

Other ways that I had already been familiar with included having someone in the family put on a demon mask and pelting that person with roasted beans, and eating enormous sushi rolls while facing west-northwest (the direction changes yearly). But even with all this pandemonium to look forward to, somehow I managed to let setsubun sneak up on me once again. Imagine my shock when I came home one cloudy night to find that my neighbors–whom I know nothing about–had skewered a mummified fish head and put it on display. Was this some kind of threat infused with Japanese-style indirectness? My girlfriend has moved out now, maybe this is their way of telling me, “You’d better not linger”.

What better way to brace one’s homestead for the splendor of spring?

But as Google tells it, the holly-fish head combo is a one-two punch against demons, who both hate the smell of sardines and are easily pricked by holly leaves. Clearly these are not the terrifying demons of Western legend. It seems to me that if they’re scared of holly leaves, you could probably just ask them to go away and they would.

At any rate, chalk this one up to the weirdness of tradition. I’d be a filthy liar if I said only Japanese tradition is weird (Christians celebrate the miraculous resurrection of a man by painting chicken eggs delivered by an enormous rabbit!!!), but surely they seem extra weird since Japan is an island country, and a lot of these traditions are unique to this place. Surely shit’s just as crazy in Madagascar.

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