Setsubun(節分): A day to Drive away the evils from home

Setsubun is a Japanese festival held on February 3rd. The day marks the last day of the winter season based on the Japanese lunar calendar. From ancient days, many rituals are followed by the Japanese society on this day to drive the evil spirits away. One of the most important rituals that is done among the Japanese houses is the bean throwing tradition to drive away the devil.

Photo by Miyuki Kobayashi on Flickr

We can see the items like roasted beans, Devil masks etc. being sold at the shops during this season.

Mamemaki

Fukumame(roasted soybean) is thrown inside and out of the houses on the Setsubun day. It is done with the belief that these fortune beans will drive away the evils causing ill, misfortune etc. from the houses. A special wooden box called ‘Isshou Masu’ is filled with roasted soybean which is offered to the gods in front of the house altars.

Mamemaki: Photo by on DozoDomo on Flickr

The bean throwing tradition is commonly done in houses with children. Mostly the father or the eldest persons in the houses wear the mask of a devil(Oni) and the children used to throw beans at the ‘Oni’ shouting “Oni wa soto, Fuku wa uchi(鬼は外、福は内)” which means “Devil out, Fortune in”.

Photo by Ignat Gorazd on Flickr

While throwing these roasted beans, children used to eat it. It is believed that eating as many roasted beans equal to your age on the Setsubun day will bring fortune.

Photo by Quoi on Flickr

Yaikagashi(焼嗅)

It is one of the ancient rituals in Japan associated with Setsubun. People used to burn things like the sardine, beans or other materials to create nasty smells to drive the evil away. Some households decorate the house entrance with a talisman made of Holly branches and roasted sardine heads. It is believed to prevent the ghosts and evil spirits from entering the house.

Ehoumaki (恵方巻)

Ehomaki is the long makizushi which is consumed on the Setsubun day. Usually, the makizushi is cut into small pieces and served. But during the Setsubun festival, makizushi is served as a symbol of good luck and fortune. So it is not supposed to cut it.

This is a custom that become popular from the Kansai region of Japan. The role of the convenience stores and supermarkets in making this ritual popular all across the country is reflected in the popularity and the increasing sales of this product on the Setsubun day. All the conveninece stores and supermarkets sell Ehoumaki on the setsubun day which made this custom popular all over the nation. Ehoumaki of various kinds is available at every popular shop in different price ranges and on prior booking.

There are various rules associated with eating Ehomaki on the Setsubun day. It may also differ in various regions. The common rules associated with this are:

  1. Ehoumaki should be consumed facing the lucky direction of the year. Every year has some lucky directions(eho) in Japan. (In 2018, it is south-south-east.)
  2. Ehoumaki should not be cut into small pieces. As it is a symbol of fortune, cutting it into small pieces sounds like cutting your big fortune into small ones.
  3. The entire long makisuzhi should be consumed in full silence. Talking while eating this fortune suzhi roles are considered to give away the expected luck.
  4. Some used to consume the Ehoumaki in a standing position.

    Eating Ehoumaki: Photo by Hiro-Kokoro on Flickr

Most of the Japanese families, especially those with children used to observe this day following every rituals and belief associated with this. Some big shrines and temples also celebrate the day by conducting special events and bean throwing ceremonies.