Somewhere towards mid January, most Departmental stores in Japan start displaying a variety of beans and nuts. At times an image of an ogre like creature is displayed near the beans. This is an indication of the approaching “Setsubun” or Bean Throwing festival.
Setsubun is the day before the onset of spring in Japan and is celebrated on the 3rd of February each year. Setsubun means seasonal division and signifies the onset of a new season. But the onset of spring is considered the most important day and as such Setsubun often refers to the Spring Setsubun. Like most other traditions, even Setsubun owes its origin to Chinese custom called “Tsuina”.
Traditionally, people throw roasted soybeans known as “Fuku-mame” outside their homes and by doing so they throw out the demons or evil from their homes. This is a kind of cleansing act. It is usually the head of the family, usually a male member who does this ritual. While doing so, the other family members chant “ Oni wa soto, Fuku wa uchi”. This means “ Demons out and Luck inside the house”. Then the door is closed to keep the demons out. This bean scattering ritual is called “Mame-maki” and the demon is called "Oni". The demon is potrayed differently in different parts of Japan, but is usually potrayed as a male with curly hair, sharp claws, two long horns and sharp teeth. At times shops display the Oni masks around this time of the year.
These days the mamemaki ritual is not commonly followed, but people still take home the Fuku-mame to purify their homes from misfortune and bad health. The roasted soybeans are eaten on this day to bring luck. These days sugar coated or plain raw peanuts are substituted for soybeans. Now a days, it is common practice for families to visit a shrine or temple during the spring festival and participate in the bean scattering ritual performed by the priest. On the festival day, people usually eat “Makezushi” a rice roll.
This rice roll is also called “Eho-maki” which means Lucky Direction roll. Traditionally people face the lucky direction as per Chinese zodiac for the year.
Like most other festivals, our daughter’s kindergarten celebrated the Setsubun festival.
Children made Oni crowns and masks from cardboard and paper with help from their teachers.
They were also given peanuts to bring home as part of the festival ritual of eating them on this day.
Setsubun is not a national holiday in Japan.