Celebrating the Japanese Festival of Setsubun

Japan marks the beginning of spring on February 4th. Setsubun, which means “the division of the seasons,” is celebrated on February 3rd (although there is technically a “setsubun” for every season, the beginning of spring is the only one celebrated).

Mame-maki

To welcome the new season, one member of the family (often the father) dons a devil mask while his family members throw roasted soybeans at him. The act of throwing beans is known as mame-maki, and is done to drive out demons and invite good luck for the new year. While throwing beans, the family will yell “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!” which roughly translates to “demons out, luck in!” and slam the door on the defeated demon. Because the ritual tends to get messy, many people opt to simply do this outside!

Supermarkets will usually sell masks and soybean packets, and a few restaurants even join in on the fun by giving patrons packets of beans as they leave. Larger mame-maki events often take place at temples and shrines, where patrons will rush to catch the beans thrown. Some believe that eating the number of beans equal to their age will bring them health and happiness. (A 42-year-old, for example, would eat 42 beans.) Unless you live in a household where the other members also celebrate Setsubun, it’s probably best to keep this tradition confined to Japan. Housemates and strangers don’t usually take kindly to having beans thrown at them!

Eho-maki

The tradition of eating eho-maki started in the Kansai area, but is becoming more common in other regions across Japan. This custom dictates eating a large sushi roll in total silence while facing in a lucky direction; the direction is determined by the year’s zodiac sign. In 2014, the lucky direction is east-northeast.

The start of spring

The day after Setsubun is known as Risshun: the start of spring. Whether you're currently teaching in Japan or just like the idea of driving out demons with beans, we hope the start of this new season is filled with good luck!

Photo: Sakura Chihaya (Flickr)