Celebrate Setsubun - Japan’s Bean Throwing Festival
The early days of February may not feel like spring but if you find yourself eager for milder weather or simply crave some lighthearted festivities including throwing beans at evil spirits, eating a whole roll of sushi, and wearing demon masks, you should celebrate Setsubun. This traditional Japanese festival marks the last day of winter according to the ancient lunar calendar, offering a unique blend of fun and cultural significance.
What Is Setsubun?
Things to Do on Setsubun
One of the most cherished traditions during Setsubun involves the ritual of mamemaki, or bean-throwing. Families gather to toss roasted soybeans both inside and outside their homes, shouting "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" which translates to "Out with the demons, in with good luck!" Another beloved tradition is the eating of Ehomaki, a special type of sushi roll enjoyed in silence while facing the lucky direction determined for the year. The lucky direction for 2024 is Northeast.
Setsubun is also characterized by the donning of masks, typically oni (demon) masks, to represent the warding off of evil spirits. Onis are Japanese ogres or demons and are typically portrayed by men at public ceremonies or fathers within the household, and have the mame beans thrown at them. Wearing masks adds a theatrical element to the festivities, bringing a playful yet symbolic touch to the celebration that both children and adults can enjoy.
In Western Japan, a distinctive tradition involves placing a holly tree adorned with a sardine's head at the entrance. This ritual carries symbolic significance as the scent of sardines is believed to ward off demons, while the thorns of holly trees act as a deterrent, ensuring their extermination. Notably, the custom of consuming sardines on Setsubun is a unique practice predominantly observed in Western Japan, with limited prevalence in Eastern Japan.
Setsubun in Modern Japan
Today, Setsubun continues to be celebrated, and has become a highly commercialized event. Famous temples hold exciting events that draw numerous visitors every year on the day of Setsubun. Japanese retailers sell sardines, which are typically grilled to produce a smell that will keep the demons away, as well as roast soybeans called Fuku-mame 福豆 (good fortune beans) that people throw out their front doors and say “demon out, good fortune in,” and the ehomaki roll that consists of seven lucky ingredients and has to be eaten in complete silence and in the direction of good fortune.
If you’d like to get a taste of the Setsubun tradition, but you’re nowhere near Japan, you can use a Japanese forwarding address to order mamemaki (豆まき) bean throwing sets or oni masks from retailers like Amazon Japan or Rakuten and celebrate with friends and family at home.