Though it may not feel like it outside, the lunar calendar says winter is over and it’s time to celebrate the arrival of spring with Setsubun festivities.
Setsubun February 3rd
Come February 3, many parents throughout Japan will don demon masks and allow their children to pelt them with dried soybeans. Strange, perhaps, but this is just one of the many customs of Setsubun.
According to the traditional Japanese lunar calendar, the first day of spring is recognized on February 4, and the previous day, the last day of winter, is observed through this annual tradition.
Setsubun, which means seasonal change, also marks the conclusion of the year’s cycle of seasons. The first day of spring is the start of a new year.
Because of its symbolic importance, there are various rituals to expel bad luck and welcome health, good fortune and prosperity for the coming year. Most common is the practice of mame maki or bean throwing. Typically, children throw dry-roasted soybeans, or irimame, while chanting, “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi” (Demons out, good fortune in).
Large ceremonies are held at temples and shrines, where local business leaders and celebrities often throw beans and other goodies to the amassed crowd. Zojo Temple near Tokyo Tower hosts a particularly lively celebration.
Other Setsubun customs include eating the same number of soybeans, plus one extra, as your age and feasting on special eho maki sushi rolls. Containing seven auspicious ingredients to represent each of the seven lucky gods, the rolls are eaten in silence while facing the year’s lucky direction (this year’s is east-northeast).
Unlike standard sushi rolls, eho maki are uncut to symbolize whole, untainted good luck. Once eaten only in the Osaka area, these delicacies are now consumed across Japan.
While less popular, some people even hang a holly tree branch and dried sardine heads at the entrance to their house. This is meant to ward off evil spirits and is believed to be the inspiration for the Japanese saying “Even the head of a sardine can be a charm against evil if you believe in it.”
***Efrot Weiss is long term Japan resident and good friend who writes a monthly column for the Tokyo American Club (TAC) Intouch Magazine. BestLivingJapan will be sharing Efrot’s articles about Japan & Intl cultural difference throughout 2015. Thank you Efrot and TAC
First published in the February 2014 issue of Tokyo American Club’s monthly magazine, iNTOUCH.
Setsubun February 3rd
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