According to the Japanese Lunar Calendar, ‘Setsubun’ (literally ‘seasonal division’ in English) is the day before the arrival of spring, or the day that sits between winter and spring, dividing the two seasons. It is celebrated on February 3rd usually as a part of the Spring Festival (Haru Matsuri) across Japan at all shrines and temples, as well as people’s homes and whole neighbourhoods. It can be called Japanese New Year too, in a way. Celebrations take place with people performing different activities on the day, following traditions and welcoming the spring. Between soy beans and demon mask, here’s what this festival is all about.
The tradition that represents the whole Setsubun holiday is mamemaki, meaning ‘bean-throwing’.
Mamemaki is the tradition of throwing roasted soybeans (fukumame) either outside of one’s door or on a member of the family wearing an Oni (ogre/demon) mask, while chanting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” which translates to “Demons out! Good Luck In” and slamming the door. It is an age-old tradition that started in the Muromachi period, 500 to 600 years ago. Beans in Japan are considered both healthy and lucky.
Now, a lot of people visit shrines or temples to practice the tradition, as well as do it at home. The beans are believed to drive evil spirits away and bring good fortune to the family. It is similar to how rice throwing is treated as auspicious at Western weddings. Apart from throwing them, there is a belief that one should eat as many roasted soybeans as their age, as another auspicious activity for Setsubun.
A special type of sushi roll, the ehomaki is eaten on Setsubun and there a lot of beliefs attached to it. One must eat the whole ehoamaki roll, at one sitting and in silence. If we’re being more specific, it matters which directions are you facing when eating the ehomaki roll, as every year there is a different auspicious direction. For example, in 2020 the lucky direction is east-north-east.
The ehomaki roll itself can be made with any maki-sushi ingredients, and there are many varieties. You can make it at home, but all convenience store and supermarkets are taking orders well in advance for a variety of ehomaki rolls.
At Tengu Festival in Shimokitazawa
All major shrines and temples are quite crowded during Setsubun. Many TV channels broadcast the bean throwing live at events run by priests, celebrities, and invited guests.
A famous Setsubun event that instead of oni demons features tengu demons, is the Tengu Parade in Shimokitazawa. It starts at Shinryuji temple and the parade spills out around Shimokitazawa.
In Asakusa, Sensoji temple attracts more than one hundred thousand people to attend the festivities. They are all seen tossing beans and gifts and the event turns a little bit wild. Different types of delicacies such as ehomaki sushi rolls and ‘shogazake’ (ginger sake) are consumed during Setsubun. People also consume the roasted beans for good fortune. Different dance performances given by geisha and cross-dressing plays are conducted during the event.
At Sensoji, unlike other places in Japan, people do not shout “demons out”; instead, they shout just “good luck in” because it is believed that there are no demons in front of Kannon (god of mercy), the main deity there. One of the famous rituals here is the ‘Fukuju-no-mai Dance’ (Seven Deities of Good Fortune Dance) in which different cultural figures and famous performers actively participate. After the dance, bean tossing is performed bringing everyone together with fun and a cultural aura.
For more information, one can visit a nearby shrine or temple. If you are interested in the event conducted at Sensoji temple in Tokyo, you can contact the Asakusa Tourist Association for further details.
: AC photo/
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