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To celebrate Vikings Live, we have replaced our Roman alphabet with the runic alphabet used by the Vikings, the Scandinavian ‘Younger Futhark’. The ‘Younger Futhark’ has only 16 letters, so we have used some of the runic letters more than once or combined two runes for one Roman letter.

For an excellent introduction to runes, we recommend Martin Findell’s book published by British Museum Press.

More information about how we have ‘runified’ this site


3 February: Miyajima

© 2001 Inge Daniels

Setsubun at Miyajima

Setsubun at Asakusa, Tokyo

Setsubun at Asakusa, Tokyo

Packet of beans sold in supermarkets for Setsubun

Packet of beans sold in supermarkets for Setsubun

In Miyajima, as elsewhere throughout Japan, a lively crowd of visitors arrive for Setsubun, the festival held on February 3, when people go to the shrines and temples for a bean-throwing ceremony. From a platform on or near the main hall, priests and prominent members of the community throw dried beans into the crowd for good luck. Hats and bags are held up to catch as many as possible. I had seen the beans in local supermarkets over the last few days, sold together with devil masks. These are worn by children back at home, while other members of the family run around the room and the house throwing the beans at the 'devil', shouting 'Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi' ('out with the devil, in with the luck').

But Setsubun is not the main reason why people come to Miyajima. It is another of the Nihon sankei ('three scenic views'), famous for the red shrine, Itsukushima, and the large orange gate (torii) which appears to be floating in the sea at high tide. It is also where Inge Daniels carried out her research which is also referred to in the BP Showcase exhibition.

Visitors compete in setting up cameras in the best spot, vying with others for the perfect setting to a group-shot in front of the torii.

In the same way that Marugame is 'Fan Village', so Miyajima has become identified with the shamoji, wooden scoops used for serving rice. Again, street signs, restaurant menus, advertising and exhibitions all feature the shamoji shape, and it is one of the most popular souvenirs with which to leave the island. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Miyajima offers many souvenirs that combine both well-known features of the island - the shrine gate in particular - with images such as a globe, in recognition of its world status.