Japan has many celebrations and traditions that are relatively unknown by those outside the country. New Year is celebrated differently to the West, and in February, there is an old tradition that is still enjoyed by families, groups of friends, and even co-workers to this day.
February is a busy month for events in Japan. Chinese New Year is celebrated by Chinese expats and locals alike, especially in Yokohama’s Chinatown, and the 14th is the much-loved Valentine’s Day where women give chocolates to the special men in their lives. A very important tradition that is also celebrated is “Setsubun,” or “Bean-Throwing Festival” in English. So just what is Setsubun and why is it still relevant even after all these years?
Setsubun is held every year on the last day before spring, the 3rd of February, and is part of the annual Japanese spring festival. The basic meaning of Setsubun is to cleanse oneself from the evil of the previous year, starting anew and clean of sickness, injury, and sin. It has been a tradition in Japan since the eighth century.
The male head of the household plays the Oni, meaning demon or ogre, by wearing a mask and representing disease and evil. Other members of the household throw roasted soybeans, fuku mame, at the Oni (or at the doorway) and say, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” meaning, “Devil out! Luck in!” This is to purify the household and bring good luck to the new year. Afterwards, people eat the number of beans corresponding to their age; for example, if you are twenty years old, you eat twenty fuku mame.
There are also various foods and other customs relating to Setsubun, such as eating ehomaki (thick rolls usually containing rice and some vegetable filling) while facing the lucky direction of that year. Setsubun is still widely celebrated today, and luckily enough, the 3rd of February is going to be on a Saturday in 2018! So if you are free at the weekend, you can join the celebrations with these two events in Tokyo!
— 浅草スマートニュース (@asakusa_love) February 3, 2017
At Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, you can join the festivities by throwing fuku mame beans and also dancing to honor the Seven Lucky Gods of Japan (Ebisu, Daikokuten, Benzaiten, Hotei, Bishamonten, Fukurokuju, and Jurojin) which, so the Japanese say, will bring you good luck and health for the next year. Head to Asakusa Station and join the Setsubun-loving crowds at 12:00 PM (though it is advisable to arrive a little earlier) and dance your way into a happy and lucky year ahead!
— キャラメルコーン【東ハト公式】 (@akacara_tohato) February 3, 2017
If the crowds of Asakusa aren’t enough for you, head to Zojoji Temple (near Tokyo Tower). Men and women attending this bean-throwing ceremony who were born in the corresponding zodiac year (the Dog for 2018) will be dressed in samurai attire. Entry is free and the celebration will take place from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM. That’s a lot of beans!
As a visitor to Japan, you will no doubt want to try as many local and traditional things as possible. Why not give Setsubun a try and bring you and your loved ones good luck and excellent health for the coming year, as well as have fun by dancing to honor the lucky gods and throwing beans at the unwelcome Oni? If you’re going to be in Tokyo this February 2018, join in the celebrations!