Updated: Jan 26, 2022
Setsubun, which translates literally to “seasonal division”, is a holiday celebrated in Japan on February 3rd as part of the larger Spring Festival. According to the Lunar Calendar, Setsubun falls on the day before the first day of spring. Prior to the Japanese adoption of the Gregorian Calendar, Setsubun was historically celebrated as a New Year’s cleansing in accordance with the Chinese/Lunar New year. The separation between the spirit world and the human one is thought to be at its thinnest during this time, and as such Setsubun rituals revolve around the idea of driving away bad luck and spirits to usher in good luck for the coming year.
One of the most prominent rituals celebrated on Setsubun is known as mamemaki, or bean tossing. Roasted soybeans, known as fuku mame (or lucky beans) are thrown out the doors of houses and shrines while those tossing them shout “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi” (“Demons Out! Good Fortunes In!”). Some families will take it a step further by having a volunteer (usually the father or oldest male family member) don an oni (demon or ogre) mask, to be a target for the bean tossing. In a typical household Setsubun, the person wearing the oni mask will burst through the front door, only to be chased out shortly thereafter by being pelted with beans and other family members shouting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” After the demon has been chased out of the house, and the door appropriately slammed behind him, everyone will pick up and eat the number of fuku mame that corresponds to their age for additional good luck.
Another significant Setsubun activity is the preparation and consumption of a special type of sushi roll called ehoumaki. Ehoumaki are made with the preparer’s choice of seven different fillings. There are no set specific ingredients for ehoumaki. As long as there are seven different things going into the sushi roll, it will be considered lucky. Ehoumaki are traditionally eaten unsliced, burrito style and held in both hands, while facing the year’s lucky direction. In Japan, Ehoumaki can be purchased at convenience stores and come with cards specifying the lucky direction. The lucky direction for 2020 is west-southwest, so toss beans, enjoy ehoumaki, and welcome in good luck for the coming spring this Setsubun!