What is Setsubun?

The term Setsubun originally referred to the four days marking the change from one season to the next, but today only the eve of risshun (the first day of spring according to the lunar calendar) is referred to by that name.  Setsubun falls on either February 3 or 4, depending on the year.  Setsubun is not a national holiday.

What do you do in Setsubun?

Bean-throwing Ceremony

On Setsubun evening, many households enjoy mame-maki, a bean-throwing ceremony.  People fill a wooden measure with roasted soybeans and throw them in and around their houses, shouting gOni wa soto!  Fuku wa uchi!h  which means  gOut with demons!  In with good luck!h  This ceremony is performed to bring in good fortune and drive away evil spirits.  One person usually acts as the demon and runs around, while the others throw beans at him/her.   It is customary for people to pick up and eat the same number of beans as their own age.

Bean-throwing ceremonies also take place in shrine and temple compounds.  Well-known personalities, such as politicians, sumo wrestlers and actors, are invited as special guests to throw good luck beans for all those present.   Men and women born under the Zodiac sign for the year can also participate in the event.@

Mame-make originally started as an imperial event on New Yearfs Eve to get rid of demons and welcome a happy New Year.  Later it was mixed with the indigenous custom of throwing soybeans at the time of planting rice seedlings. Since the Edo period (1603-1867) the rite of throwing roasted beans inside onefs house has been performed on Setsubun.

Yakikagashi / Yaikagashi  (grill and smell)

Another less popular custom of Setsubun night is to tack a grilled sardine head pierced with a holly branch over the entrance of onefs house to drive away evil spirits by the strong smell of the sardine and the sharp tips of holly leaves.

Eat an entire sushi roll

Therefs a saying that your dream will come true if on the evening of Setsubun you are able to eat the entire sushi roll, facing that yearfs lucky direction, without saying a word.  This custom is commonly practiced in western Japan and is said to have originated in either Aichi or Osaka Prefecture.  A sushi roll is eaten so that good fortune will be rolled in: people eat the whole roll without cutting it with a knife in the hope that   good human relations will not be cut off.





Talking aboutJapan Q&A (Kodansha International)