Setsubun, celebrated yearly on February 3 as part of the Spring Festival, can be thought of as a sort of New Year’s Eve. Setsubun comes along with a special ritual meant to cleanse away all the evil of the former year and drive away disease-bringing evil spirits for the year to come. During this special ritual called mamemaki (literally “bean scattering”) roasted soybeans (called “fortune beans”) are thrown either out of the door or at a family member wearing an Oni (demon) mask, while people chant “Demons out! Luck in!” (Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!) and slam the door.
A Collection of Some of the World’s Deadliest Plants
1. Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) –
Initially, most people wouldn’t think of tobacco as a “deadly” plant. However, it is the most widely grown commercial plant in the world. All
parts of the plant contain the toxic alkaloids nicotine and anabasine, and can be fatal if eaten. Despite
its dangers, nicotine from tobacco is
widely consumed around the world and is addictive. Tobacco use causes more than 5 million deaths per year.
2. Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata) – the sister plant of hemlock, water hemlock is widely considered to be the deadliest plant in North America. Fun fact:
water hemlock greatly resembles Queen Anne’s lace and it is actually sometimes confused with parsnips or celery. Where normal hemlock contains the toxin coniine (which causes paralysis), water hemlock contains cicutoxin and cicunol. These toxins cause extremely violent and painful convulsions, cramps, and tremors.
3. Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna) – Deadly nightshade is actually part of the same family that comprises both the tomato and potato. It contains the poisons solanine, atropine, scopolamine, and hyoscyamine. A dose of around two to five berries is usually sufficient to kill an adult. Fun fact: Belladonna means ‘beautiful lady’; it refers to the 17th century practice of women putting a small extract of belladonna in their eyes to dilate their pupils and make them more attractive.
4. White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) – A seemingingly innocuous plant, white snakeroot is a North American herb which contains the toxin trematol. This plant is a favorite among livestock, and the toxins can pass from the animal ingesting to their meat/milk, causing indirect poisoning. Despite the symptoms of tremors, violent vomiting, delirium, and weakness from being ingested, it gets it name due to the fact that it can be an effective cure from snake bites.
5. Rosary Pea (Abrus precatorius) – Also known by the names: jequirity, paternoster pea, crab’s eye, precatory bean, Indian licorice or Jumbie bread. These beans actually contain a poison 100x more deadly than ricin, known as abrin. This is a common plant throughout the tropics and even as far north as Florida. These brightly-colored beans have a variety of uses including as the rattling beans inside maracas and in jewelry (hence the name rosary beads). Fortunately the bean has a very tough protective coating.
6. Oleander (Nerium oleander)– Oleanders are a beautiful plant known for their eye-catching flowers. Despite being a common ornamental plant, all parts of the oleander plant are deadly. It contains lethal cardiac glycosides known as oleandrin and neriine. Ingesting oleander can cause vomiting, bloody diarrhea, erratic pulse, seizures, coma, and death. Another fun fact: the term ‘oleander’ actually derives from Italy and translates to “ass killer” (I’m guessing the bloody diarrhea contributed to that).
7. Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) – Lily of the Valley is common throughout Northern Europe and America. Its pretty appearance is deceiving, it is a deadly, poisonous plant containing a whopping 38 different cardiac glycosides. Highest on the list would be the toxin convallatoxin . Symptoms of poisoning can include severe headache, nausea, vomiting, slow heart beat and excessive urination.
8.Manchineel (Hippomane mancinella) – This particular fruit-bearing tree is common in coastal regions, such as Florida, South and Central America. It is considered to be the world’s deadliest tree. The Manchineel tree bears toxic apples, and produces a sap (which contains the toxin phorbol) known to cause painful blisters upon contact with skin. Even burning the wood from a Manchineel tree can cause blindness. Natives used to use the sap on their arrowheads. Common symptoms of poisoning include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures.
9. Suicide Tree (Cerbera odollam) – Most commonly found in areas such as India and Madagascar, it contains the powerful alkaloid, cerberin, which causes an irregular heartbeat, which can be fatal. Once used as a form of trial in Madagascar (if you survived its effects, you were innocent) it was outlawed as a punishment in the mid-19th century. The plant has also been referred as the perfect murder weapon. Its flavor can be disguised by spices when served in food (I am not promoting this in any way!!). The toxins from this tree claim approximately 50 lives a year.
10. Aconite (Aconitum napellus) – Also known as monkshood and wolf’s bane (Thank you, Professor Snape). It contains the aptly-named toxin, aconitine. It commonly referred to as the “queen of poisons”, and probably the most poisonous plant in Europe. Just touching the plant can cause severe and immediate symptoms, and ingesting is often fatal. Immediate effects include a burning in the mouth. This is followed by drooling, vomiting and diarrhea. As the poison progresses symptoms include numbness, tingling, irregular heartbeat and respiratory failure. The toxins in this plant were long-used in preparing arrows for hunting and warfare.
In my only slightly obsessive quest to take pictures of all things shiny, I recently had the good fortune to see Chicago’s Bean in the rain. Needless to say, I flipped the fuck out and took several jillion pictures until my camera literally gave me the finger and shut itself off.
Kakihara Tetsuya playing the oni for setsubun! He’ll make a lovable ogre, I don’t feel like throwing beans at him…
Extra info: The custom of Mamemaki first appeared in the Muromachi period.It is usually performed by the toshiotoko (年男) of the household (the male who was born on the corresponding animal year on the Chinese zodiac), or else the male head of the household. Roasted soybeans (called “fortune beans” (福豆 fuku mame)) are thrown either out the door or at a member of the family wearing an Oni (demon or ogre) mask, while the people say “Demons out! Luck in!” (鬼は外! 福は内! Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!) and slam the door.
The name literally means “seasonal division”, but usually the term refers to the Spring Setsubun, properly called Risshun (立春) celebrated yearly on February 3 as part of the Spring Festival (春祭 haru matsur).
In its association with the Lunar New Year, Spring Setsubun can be and was previously thought of as a sort of New Year’s Eve, and so was accompanied by a special ritual to cleanse away all the evil of the former year and drive away disease-bringing evil spirits for the year to come. This special ritual is called mamemaki* (豆撒き)
Setsubun has its origins in tsuina (追儺), a Chinese custom introduced to Japan in the eighth century.
While the practice of eating makizushi* on Setsubun is historically only associated with the Kansai area of Japan, the practice has become popular nationwide due largely to marketing efforts by grocery and convenience stores.
In the Tohoku area of Japan, the head of the household (traditionally the father) would take roasted beans in his hand, pray at the family shrine, and then toss the sanctified beans out the door. Nowadays peanuts (either raw or coated in a sweet, crunchy batter) are sometimes used in place of soybeans.
There are many variations on the famous Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi chant. For example, in the city of Aizuwakamatsu, people chant “鬼の目玉ぶっつぶせ！” (Oni no medama buttsubuse!), lit. “Blind the demons’ eyes!”.
Priests and invited guests will throw roasted soy beans (some wrapped in gold or silver foil), small envelopes with money, sweets, candies and other prizes.
In some bigger shrines, even celebrities and sumo wrestlers will be invited; these events are televised nationally.
At Sensō-ji in the Asakusa neighborhood of Tokyo, crowds of nearly 100,000 people attend the annual festivities. Many people come, and the event turns wild, with everyone pushing and shoving to get the gifts tossed from above.
It is customary in Kansai area to eat uncut makizushi called ehō-maki (恵方巻, “lucky direction roll”) in silence on Setsubun while facing the year’s lucky compass direction, determined by the zodiac symbol of that year.
Some families put up small decorations of sardine heads and holly leaves (柊鰯 hiragi iwashi) on their house entrances so that bad spirits will not enter. Ginger sake (生姜酒 shōgazake) is customarily drank at Setsubun.
*mamemaki: It is usually performed by the toshiotoko (年男) of the household (the male who was born on the corresponding animal year on the Chinese zodiac), or else the male head of the household. Roasted soybeans (called “fortune beans” (福豆 fuku mame)) are thrown either out the door or at a member of the family wearing an Oni (demon or ogre) mask, while the people say “Demons out! Luck in!” (鬼は外! 福は内! Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!) and slam the door. This is still common practice in households but many people will attend a shrine or temple’s Spring festival where this is done. 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. The gestures of mamemaki look similar to the Western custom of throwing rice at newly married couples after a wedding.
*makizushi: (巻き寿司, rolled sushi), norimaki (海苔巻き, Nori roll) or makimono (巻物, variety of rolls) a cylindrical piece, formed with the help of a bamboo mat known as a makisu (巻簾). Makizushi is generally wrapped in nori (seaweed), but is occasionally wrapped in a thin omelette, soy paper, cucumber, or shiso (perilla) leaves. Makizushi is usually cut into six or eight pieces, which constitutes a single roll order. The most common types of makizushi are futomaki, hosomaki, temaki, uramaki, narezushi, nigirizushi, gunkanmaki, temarizushi, and oshizushi.