In Japan, it is believed that when seasons change, people are more prone to be affected by the evil forces i.e. devils, so there is a need to ward off evil on the day before the beginning of the new season. As such, Setsubun (節分), which means the last day before spring, is an occasion where people conduct the mamemaki (豆まき) ritual of throwing beans and eating a certain number of beans (deduct 1 from your current age) to chase out the evil spirits and bring in good luck. In the colder and snowy regions like Tohoku (東北) and Hokkaido (北海道), peanuts are sometimes used in place of beans as they are easier to pick up and there are fewer hygiene concerns since dirt will be kept away from the peanuts by the shells that will be removed.
Another well-known practice on this day is to eat Ehomaki (恵方巻), i.e. a thick sushi roll, at one go in silence on the night of Setsubun while facing the Eho (恵方) i.e. the lucky direction of the year. However, Ehomaki was not known as such when it originated from Osaka (大阪) in the early days of the Showa era. It was only in 1998 when convenience store chain, 7-Eleven (セブンイレブン), first launched such thick sushi rolls on Setsubun under the name of “marukaburizushi Ehomaki (丸かぶり寿司 恵方巻)” that the term became well known and used nationwide since 2000. There are also similar versions eaten during the Setsubun of the other seasons called Haru no Ehomaki (春の恵方巻) in May, Natsu no Ehomaki (夏の恵方巻) in August, and Aki no Ehomaki (秋の恵方巻) in November.
Typically, the Ehomaki roll consists of 7 ingredients to represent the Shichifukujin (七福神), i.e. Seven Gods of Good Fortune, who bring prosperity in business, health, and fortune. Another theory as to why the thick sushi roll is eaten on this occasion is because the roll resembles the golden rod left behind by the devil so it was used to chase the devil again.
There are no fixed ingredients in the Ehomaki but some common choices include cucumber, dried gourd shavings (かんぴょう), shiitake mushrooms (椎茸), unagi (鰻), sakura denbu (桜でんぶ), and egg. As time went by, the variations of Ehomaki have increased and the number of ingredients is no longer restricted to 7 as there are versions with 2, 5, 11, 12, and 15 ingredients.
This 2017, Setsubun falls on 3 February and the Eho is said to be north-north-west. If you happen to be in Japan right now, how about trying the following 7 types of Ehomaki on the night of Setsubun to ward off evil and usher in good luck for the new season ahead?
For those who are fans of Rilakkuma, you should be thrilled at seeing this Ehomaki set from Lawson which comes in a specially-designed wrapper and offers a free luncheon mat in the package for a price of 800 yen (inclusive of tax). Ingredients include chicken breast, onions, egg salad, corn, egg, and vinegared rice with tomato sauce.
Note that the seaweed sheets used in all of Lawson’s Ehomaki products have been “blessed” through prayer rituals at Kiyomizudera (清水寺) in Kyoto (京都) so that they bring good luck to whoever consumes them.
Unfortunately, as this is a limited-edition product which can only be bought through prior reservations, you may not be able to lay your hands on this anymore. But there is no harm in swinging by a Lawson store to try your luck, right?
If you are a Kumamon lover and would like to eat a sweet version of the Ehomaki, you can get the Kumamon Nagai Setsubun Roll which contains whipped cream made from milk sourced from Oguni-machi in Aso (阿蘇小国町), Kumamoto (熊本), with chocolate ganache and pineapples. At the price of 420 yen, this should be easier to obtain since it is not a limited-edition item. Note though that this is not available at Natural Lawson stores and in Okinawa (沖縄).
If you are visiting the hot pot restaurant chain Shabu Shabu Onyasai’s Ginza 5-chome (しゃぶしゃぶ温野菜 銀座5丁目店), Akasaka (赤坂店), and Umeda Kita (梅田北店) branches, do remember to download the restaurant’s mobile app before your visit. On Setsubun, if you present the coupon in the app when ordering their hot pot buffet, the first 23 groups of customers will be given the Gokubuto Gokujo Ehomaki, i.e. the very thick and premium Ehomaki which contains crab meat from one whole zuwaigani (ズワイ蟹) or snow crab, for free! This special Ehomaki, which measures 18 cm long and weighs 555 grams, also contains six other ingredients including cucumber and plum.
As for those visiting the other branches, you can still download the app to get the coupon for a free Yuba Ehomaki (湯葉恵方巻き), which is wrapped in tofu skin and also contains crab meat from an entire snow crab.
For a dash of luxury in your Ehomaki, you can consider the Western-style spiny lobster and chutoro Ehomaki wrapped in golden foil with caviar toppings from Nakajima Suisan (中島水産). You can get this at Daimaru Tokyo Station (大丸東京駅) for a price of 9,720 yen, only on the day of Setsubun. Moreover, this is a limited-edition item so you will have to act fast to avoid disappointment.
If you would like to try a Chinese-style Ehomaki and happen to like abalone, shark’s fin, and crab meat, this is probably your best choice. Ginza Aster (銀座アスター) is selling their Chuka Sandai Bimi Ehomaki, which contains the above-mentioned ingredients regarded as delicacies in Chinese cooking, for a price of 2,700 yen (inclusive of tax). It is exclusively sold on Setsubun at Daimaru Tokyo Station where you can find as many as 140 types of Ehomaki to suit a variety of tastes.
In parts of Western Japan, the hiragi iwashi (柊鰯), i.e. sardines, are used as lucky charms to ward off evil where sardine heads are grilled before holly branches are pierced into them and hung at the doors of houses. The sardine meat is then added to the Ehomaki with perilla leaves to represent the holly.
At sushi restaurant chain Muten Kurazushi (無添くら寿司), they will be selling the Marugoto Iwashi Maki, i.e. entire sardine roll which uses one whole deboned sardine in the Ehomaki, for a price of 350 yen (exclusive of tax). The sardines used in this roll come from Kushiro (釧路) in Hokkaido and are grilled with salt. Only 13,000 rolls will be available at the restaurants on Setsubun. You’ll probably need to muster enough courage to eat this Ehomaki which does look rather intimidating visually with the sardine’s head and tail sticking out of the roll.
To celebrate its 55th anniversary at its Ikebukuro Main Store, Tobu Department Store (東武百貨店池袋本店) is launching its longest Ehomaki to date, which measures 55 cm and contains 55 items! This very long Ehomaki titled “55 Hinmoku 55-cm Ehomaki (55品目55cm恵方巻き)” has a diameter of 6 cm and costs 5,500 yen. It offers 7 combinations of the 55 ingredients that are mostly seafood, including grilled anago (焼穴子), grilled saba (焼サバ), eggs, cucumber, shiitake mushrooms, sakura denbu, ootoro (大トロ), toro, akami (本マグロ赤身), salmon, sea urchin (雲丹), salmon roe (イクラ), grilled octopus, sweet shrimp, hirame, and whiteleg shrimp. Unfortunately, reservations for this special Ehomaki are no longer accepted (the last date of ordering was 31 January 2017), but you can still swing by the store for a look at this lengthy Ehomaki.
Tobu is also offering about 100 types of this auspicious roll on Setsubun, where 28 of them are specially made for their 55th-anniversary celebration, so you should be able to find something that suits your taste and budget!
Now that you’ve seen that there are so many interesting variations of the traditional Ehomaki, why not give this a try on the night of Setsubun and have a hearty feast while bringing in good luck for yourself?