Did you know that in Japan, Spring starts on February 4th? So basically in the middle of Winter. And to celebrate this, of course, they throw beans at each other! Makes sense, doesn’t it? This fun festival is called Setsubun, which means “Seasonal division“ and is actually celebrated one day before on February 3rd, which also marks the lunar calendar’s New Year. Its purpose is to get rid of any negativity from the previous year and set the way for Good Luck in the year to come.
The bean-throwing custom is called “Mamemaki“ and serves to symbolically cleanse your home of evil spirits and the misfortunes that they bring. This kind of gives the term “spring cleaning” a whole new meaning, doesn’t it? But if you thought you could just madly chuck beans around, you’re mistaken. This is Japan, so of course there are rules! A family member, usually the oldest son or the father, dresses up as Oni (Japanese for demon). In most cases that just means they’re wearing a mask, which – little fun fact – you can actually get for free at most supermarkets around this time. The rest of the family then throw roasted soybeans at the poor devil (pun intended), shouting “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!“, meaning something like “Demons out, happiness in!”. Alternatively, you can also just throw the beans out the door, but what’s the fun in that?
Mamemaki is probably the most well-known and popular ritual of Setsubun, which is why, in English, it is also just known as the “Bean-Throwing Festival“. It is, however, not the only one! Many shrines and temples across Japan perform Setsubun celebrations, where priests and sometimes invited celebrities will throw – you guessed it! – beans, but also candy, sweets, and sometimes even money at visitors.
Apart from throwing, there’s also a couple of rituals that revolve around eating, which is always an enjoyable thing to do. The custom of eating “Eho-Maki“ was originally performed only in the Kansai-area, but has increasingly been gaining popularity in the rest of Japan in recent years. Eho-Maki are sushi rolls that contain seven ingredients which are meant to present the Seven Gods of Good Fortune.
What you do is, you take your sushi roll and face the lucky direction of the year ahead (it changes every year according to the zodiac year. In 2017 it’s “somewhat north of north-northwest”. Wherever that is…) and then you eat the whole thing in grave silence, while wishing solemnly for happiness. Sounds like a blast, doesn’t it? You’re not supposed to cut the thing because it symbolises your good relationships with others which you’d ideally want to keep in one piece. Another thing that you can eat on Setsubun are the beans, once you’re done throwing them around! The idea is to eat one for each year of your life, and then another one that’s supposed to make for Good Luck. Old people usually only end up with a bad stomach ache, though.
Hopefully, you’ve now got an idea of how to take part in this fun Japanese tradition. In any case, there seems to be a lot of throwing involved, so if you’re still not sure how to celebrate Setsubun, just make sure to hurl something around! Apparently, that’s half the battle.