In Japan, there is an event called Setsubun（節分） which occurs around 2nd February. According to the calendar, it happens on about ‘the first day of spring’ the weather is supposed to begin to turn mild from that day.It is believed that evil spirits draw near when season changes. Therefore, people have perfomed traditional ceremonies since ancient times where they throw soy beans to drive evil spirits away and pray for perfect health for the year ahead. People not only throw beans, but they also eat the same number of beans as their age (or plus 1), which is also believed to expel the bad spirits.Beyond ExtraordinaryMaiko as usualIn Kyoto, people have another Setsubun event called ‘Setsubun Obake’. This is not well known yet even in Japan.People masquerade and pay a visit to shrines and temples. Geisha girls and Maiko, the apprentices, wear unusual make-up and costumes to give performances at banquets. Unusual make-up and clothes are used to fool the evil spirits which prevail around the time of Setsubun.Now, what is the ‘Setsubun Obake’ like? I went to one of the banquets to show you. Two geisha girls strut onto the stage. The audience already starts laughing aloud at the funny and strange costumes.The first performance is ‘Sanja Matsuri’,then, the next performance is ‘Dojou Sukui’.Actually, geisha girls never use songs like these two at their usual banquets. It is only the performance for the Setsubun Obake which allows them to be silly. Inviting geisha or maiko girls to a banquet is an unusual occurrence for most people. For people who are accustomed to geisha performances, this setsubun performance is even funnier because of the gap between their usual beauty and grace as perfect geishas and their appearance and behaviour as comedians.Look at the picture. As the geisha girls take their masks off, people expect to see their beautiful faces…Well?Oh?Blimey!Whatever happened to them!This is completely different from the usual geisha appearance, and the make-up make them look more like mischievous old chaps.You can see the great transformation.The difference between the two images is a new sensation.The third performance is based on a popular comedian’s latest catch phrase, ‘Attakaindakara’ (It’s warm, you see). They do not miss the latest trends.Finally we are given the beans to throw by the geisha girls. We will pray for our health and throw them around.The banquet comes to an end…Off the girls go like the wind,…to the next banquet.As they have to manage 30 to 40 banquets per day, they are pretty busy for 3 days around Setsubun day.Passing on the Traditional CultureAt the banquet I went to, the geisha girls said they started practising a month ago. As they are always occupied with their usual training in dance and singing, they had to prepare betweentimes.They can achieve this great effort simply because of the passion of people in Gion（祇園）, Koto to pass on the traditional events of Setsubun and Setsubun Obake to the next generation and to let a greater number of people know the tradition and enjoy it.’Share the good fun and pray for happiness’, Kyoto’s Setsubun Obake might give you a feeling of good will.
The Toronto stock market was lower on Friday near midday as disappointing Canadian jobs numbers added to concerns about the global economy, in particular China.The S&P/TSX composite index was down 9.22 points at 11,848.91, while the TSX Venture Exchange slipped 0.11 of a point to 1,192.94.The Canadian dollar was at 100.83 cents US, up 0.02 of a cent. Earlier in the session the loonie had been as low as 100.3 cents US, down nearly half a cent from Thursday’s close, shortly after Statistics Canada’s jobs report for July.Statistics Canada reported that the unemployment rate rose one-tenth of a point to 7.3 per cent as the economy shed 30,400 jobs last month. The outcome was notably worse than the addition of about 6,000 jobs that analysts had expected.Traders have been revisiting worries about the direction of the global economy after a series of economic data out of China showed that the world’s second-largest economy is facing a slowdown.The Chinese economic figures causing most concern on Friday was the trade data for July. Exports rose just one per cent over a year earlier, sharply below forecasts of five per cent, while import growth fell to 4.7 per cent from the previous month’s 6.3 per cent, also below expectations.The trade surplus with the 27-nation European Union, China’s biggest trading partner, narrowed by 37.9 per cent to $10.8 billion, reflecting sluggish demand in Europe, which is wrestling with a debt crisis and recession.The figures, which came a day after China reported a slowdown in auto sales and factory output, are likely to heap the pressure on Beijing to take more measures to boost economic growth.On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average decreased 38.48 points to 13,126.71 and the broader S&P slid 4.07 points to 1,398.73. The Nasdaq lost 8.77 points to 3,009.87.At the TSX, energy stocks were off 2.2 per cent with the September crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange down 59 cents to US$92.77 a barrel.September copper moved down 3.4 cents to US$3.41 a pound while December gold fell $3.80 to US$1,624 an ounce.The biggest gainer was the information technology sector, up 3.3 per cent, with Open Text (TSX:OTC) ahead $5.08 to $54.14.Research In Motion (TSX:RIM) shares gained 35 cents to $8.07 following reports that IBM has an “informal” interest in buying the BlackBerry maker’s enterprise division. Financials stocks were off 0.1 per cent with Royal Bank (TSX:RY) slipping 26 cents to $50.94.In earnings, railway tie and utility pole maker Stella-Jones Inc. (TSX:SJ) is raising its dividend 6.7 per cent after reporting profits were up 20.1 per cent at $20.8 million or $1.30 per share in its most recent quarter. That compared with net profits of $17.3 million or $1.08 per share in the same year-earlier period. Its shares rose $1.97 to $59.69.In Europe, Germany’s DAX fell 0.3 per cent to 6,908 while the CAC-40 in France was 0.6 per cent lower at 3,437. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was 0.2 per cent lower at 5,842.Earlier in Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 index fell 1 per cent to close at 8,891.44. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.7 per cent to 20,136.12 and South Korea’s Kospi bounced closed 0.3 per cent higher at 1,946.40.