One of my favorite holidays in Japan is Setsubun which in the modern calendar is always February 3rd. We celebrate it every year with the kids because it’s a fun way to bring the family together, maybe bring in a little extra good luck, and is pretty low-key.
Setsubun (節分) is the second of 5 “seasonal events” (sekku, 節句) and traditionally marked the beginning of Spring in the Old Chinese calendar. In the traditional 24-period division in the old calendar the beginning of Spring was called risshun (立春). There are technically other Setsubun days, but really the only one anyone knows anymore is “spring Setsubun” which is was on the 3rd day of the second month of the Lunar Calendar, which was converted to February 3rd in the Gregorian calendar.
Since (spring) Setsubun marks the beginning of Spring, which in turn marked the beginning of the new year in the old lunar calendar, Setsubun is a time to “reset” the home, get a fresh start, and so on.
The most important tradition is the mamemaki (豆まき) in which the head of the household usually dresses up as an oni (鬼, Japanese ogre) and knocks on the front door. The kids throw roasted soybeans at him and yell:
鬼は外! 福は内!“ogre out! good luck in!”
Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!
I have some old videos of my misadventures with mamemaki. One year, as I pretended to fall down from the soy beans, I hit my head really hard on the handle of the bbq grill. Hurt like hell.
Also, since we live in the US, we use roasted peanuts instead of soybeans since they’re easier to get a hold of. Further, after driving away the Oni, one is supposed to eat a number of beans equal to one’s age.
The local Buddhist temple here also has a mamemaki event we do with the kids. I might post something about that soon.
The other big tradition is eating a special sushi roll called ehōmaki (恵方巻), while facing a particular “auspicious” tradition based on Japanese geomancy. The direction changes every year, and according to tradition, your wish will come true if you can eat the entire ehōmaki roll while facing that direction and not saying a single word. Ehōmaki rolls are more of a Kansai area (Osaka, Kyoto) thing than the Kanto area (Tokyo), but the tradition has spread to much of Japan and overseas communities as well.
So, happy Setsubun every one!
2 thoughts on “Setsubun Block Party!”