Setsubun Festival: History, Traditions, and Things to Do in Japan
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Setsubun is the day before the beginning of spring in Japan. The name literally means “seasonal division”, but usually the term refers to the spring Setsubun, properly called Risshun celebrated yearly on February 3 as part of the . In its association with the Lunar New Year, spring Setsubun can be and was previously thought of as a sort of New Year’s Eve, and so was accompanied by a special ritual to cleanse away all the evil of the former year and drive away disease-bringing evil spirits for the year to come. This special ritual is called (literally “bean scattering”). Setsubun has its origins in, a Chinese custom introduced to Japan in the eighth century.
Let’s look at the history and significance of Setsubun, as well as the traditions and practices.
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In this post we'll cover:
- 1 Discovering the Unique Traditions of Setsubun
- 2 Uncovering the Fascinating History of Setsubun
- 3 Setsubun Traditions: From Roasted Soybeans to Throwing Evil Spirits
- 4 Regional Twists on Setsubun
- 5 Fun Things to Do on Setsubun
- 6 Mamemaki – The Fun and Traditional Bean-Throwing Practice on Setsubun
- 7 Delightful Eats for Setsubun Festival
- 8 Conclusion
Discovering the Unique Traditions of Setsubun
Setsubun is a traditional Japanese festival that takes place on February 3rd or 4th, depending on the lunar calendar. The word Setsubun literally means “seasonal division,” and it marks the beginning of spring in Japan. Setsubun is also referred to as Risshun, which means “the first day of spring.”
The Origins of Setsubun
Setsubun has ancient roots and is associated with a particular day in the Chinese calendar. In the past, Setsubun was an official holiday in Japan during the Edo period. The festival involves welcoming the new energy of the earth and warding off evil spirits.
How Setsubun is Celebrated
Setsubun is generally celebrated in a similar way throughout Japan, but there are some regional variations. Here are some common ways that people celebrate Setsubun:
- Throwing roasted soybeans to ward off evil spirits
- Eating Eho-maki sushi rolls for good luck
- Dressing up as an Oni demon
- Cleaning the house to prepare for the new year
- Checking to make sure everything is in order for the new year
Why Setsubun is Important
Setsubun is an important festival in Japan because it marks the beginning of spring and the start of a new year. It is a time to welcome new energy and ward off evil spirits. Setsubun is also a time to remember the past and look forward to the future.
Uncovering the Fascinating History of Setsubun
The word Setsubun is derived from two Japanese words, “setsu” which means season and “bun” which means division. The festival is all about marking the change of seasons, and it is a time when people traditionally cleanse their homes and ward off evil spirits.
The Role of Food in Setsubun
Food is an essential part of the Setsubun festival, and there are plenty of special dishes that are associated with the event. One of the most famous is Ehomaki, a type of sushi roll that is typically eaten on Setsubun. Ehomaki is made using a variety of ingredients, including small prawns, egg, and cucumber, and it is thought to bring good luck for the year ahead.
The Significance of Mamemaki
Mamemaki is one of the biggest and most popular parts of the Setsubun festival. It involves throwing roasted soybeans at a person dressed up as an Oni (demon) while shouting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” which means “Demons out, good luck in!” The sound of the beans hitting the ground is thought to drive away evil spirits and bring good luck for the year ahead.
The Role of Setsubun in Japanese Culture Today
Today, Setsubun is widely celebrated throughout Japan, and efforts are made to keep the tradition alive. It is an important event for many people, and it is a time when families come together to enjoy good food and celebrate the changing of the seasons. Setsubun is a unique and fascinating festival that is an essential part of Japanese culture.
Setsubun Traditions: From Roasted Soybeans to Throwing Evil Spirits
Setsubun, which means “seasonal division,” is a Japanese custom that marks the beginning of spring. The day is recognized as a time to welcome the new season and drive away evil spirits. The main practice involves throwing roasted soybeans at an oni (demon) named after Watanabe no Tsuna, a famous male warrior from Japanese history.
The Mamemaki Ritual
Mamemaki, or throwing roasted soybeans, is the most common practice during Setsubun. It involves throwing small packets of roasted soybeans at the head of a person wearing an oni mask while shouting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” which means “Demons out, luck in!” This ritual is performed in households and at temples and shrines, and family members and invited guests attend.
The Good and Bad Luck of Fuku Mame
Fuku mame, or lucky beans, are uncut soybeans that are available in special Setsubun packets. The number of beans in each packet varies, but it is commonly either 21 or 63. The beans are considered to bring good luck, and people eat them while facing a specific direction based on their zodiac sign. Some people also throw the beans outside their house or at a designated spot to drive away evil spirits.
The Different Practices of Setsubun
While the mamemaki ritual is the most famous Setsubun practice, there are other rituals and observances that people follow during this time. Some of these practices include:
- Eating ehomaki, a special kind of sushi roll that is eaten in silence while facing a specific direction based on the zodiac sign
- Lighting a candle and reciting a prayer to drive away evil spirits
- Throwing fukumame, or lucky beans, at a family member wearing an oni mask to bring good luck to the household
Setsubun is a time for people to come together and celebrate the beginning of spring while driving away evil spirits and bringing good luck into their lives.
Regional Twists on Setsubun
Setsubun is not just a festival, but it is also a guide for people to live a balanced life. Here are some insights:
- Setsubun is a reminder to appreciate the changing of the seasons and to be grateful for the blessings of nature.
- It is a time to reflect on the past year and to set goals for the new year.
- Setsubun is a time to come together as a family and to pray for good health and fortune.
The Highest Setsubun Celebration in Japan
The highest Setsubun celebration in Japan takes place at the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple in Chiba Prefecture. Here, over a million people come to participate in the “Mamemaki” or bean-throwing ceremony. The temple is also known for its special Setsubun rice cakes, which are only available during the festival.
Overall, Setsubun is a festival that is related to the changing of the seasons and the balance of nature. It is a time to come together as a community and to celebrate the good while driving away the bad.
Fun Things to Do on Setsubun
Setsubun is a traditional Japanese festival that marks the beginning of a new year according to the ancient lunar calendar. The festival is celebrated on February 3rd and is associated with driving away evil spirits and bringing good luck for the coming year. The most famous custom of Setsubun is called “mamemaki,” which involves throwing roasted soybeans to drive away evil spirits. But there are many other unique customs and traditions associated with Setsubun that are worth learning about.
Buy Setsubun-Related Foods and Items
Supermarkets and stores in Japan start marketing Setsubun-related foods and items from the beginning of January. Some of the popular items include:
- Ehomaki: A special sushi roll that is eaten on Setsubun. It is believed to bring good luck for the coming year. The roll is usually filled with a wide range of ingredients such as shrimp, egg, cucumber, and pickled daikon radish.
- Roasted soybeans: Widely available in supermarkets, these soybeans are used for mamemaki.
- Setsubun box: A special box that contains a number of Setsubun-related items such as roasted soybeans, a demon mask, and a small wooden mallet. It is thought to bring good luck for the coming year.
- Pickled vegetables: Pickled vegetables such as cucumber and daikon radish are served as a side dish on Setsubun. They are believed to have a purifying effect and bring good health.
- Sweet rice cakes: Called “mochi,” these sweet rice cakes are served boiled or steamed and are a traditional food for Setsubun.
Practice the Mamemaki Custom
Mamemaki is the most famous custom associated with Setsubun. It involves throwing roasted soybeans to drive away evil spirits and bring good luck for the coming year. Here’s how to do it:
- Get a relative or a friend to dress up as a demon by wearing a demon mask.
- Stand at the entrance of your house or apartment and face the demon.
- Start throwing roasted soybeans at the demon while shouting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” which means “Out with the demons! In with good luck!”
- Make sure to pick up all the soybeans after you’re done and eat one soybean for each year of your age.
Try Ehomaki and Other Setsubun Foods
Ehomaki is a special sushi roll that is eaten on Setsubun. It is believed to bring good luck for the coming year. Here’s how to eat it:
- On the night of Setsubun, face the lucky direction of the year (which changes every year) and eat the entire roll in silence while making a wish for the coming year.
- Make sure to eat the roll in one go without cutting it into pieces.
Apart from ehomaki, there are many other Setsubun-related foods that you can try:
- Boiled or steamed sweet rice cakes (mochi)
- Pickled vegetables such as cucumber and daikon radish
- Soybeans roasted with sugar and soy sauce (called “irimame”)
- Grilled sardines (called “tazukuri”)
Get Creative with Setsubun Crafts
Setsubun is a great time to get creative and make some traditional Japanese crafts. Here are some ideas:
- Make an oni mask: Oni masks are demon masks that are worn during mamemaki. You can make your own oni mask using paper mache or by using a template available online.
- Make a Setsubun box: You can make your own Setsubun box using cardboard and decorate it with kanji characters that mean “good luck” and “fortune.”
- Make a demon lantern: Demon lanterns are a traditional decoration for Setsubun. You can make your own demon lantern using paper and a candle.
Watch a Setsubun Festival or Performance
Setsubun festivals and performances are held all over Japan. They usually involve a famous sumo wrestler or a local celebrity throwing roasted soybeans to the crowd. Here are some famous Setsubun festivals:
- Asakusa Setsubun Festival: This festival is held at the Senso-ji Temple in Tokyo and attracts thousands of people every year.
- Kanda Setsubun Festival: This festival is held at the Kanda Myojin Shrine in Tokyo and involves a famous sumo wrestler throwing roasted soybeans to the crowd.
- Yoshida Setsubun Festival: This festival is held at the Yoshida Shrine in Kyoto and involves a special ceremony called “tsuina” which is believed to bring good luck for the coming year.
Bring Good Luck with Setsubun Charms
Setsubun charms are small items that are believed to bring good luck for the coming year. They are usually sold at shrines and temples during Setsubun. Here are some popular Setsubun charms:
- Mamemaki charm: This charm contains roasted soybeans and is thought to bring good luck for the coming year.
- Ehomaki charm: This charm contains a small ehomaki sushi roll and is believed to bring good luck for the coming year.
- Setsubun box charm: This charm contains a small Setsubun box and is thought to bring good luck for the coming year.
Continue the Setsubun Tradition with Your Family and Friends
Setsubun is a fun and unique festival that is widely celebrated in Japan. By learning about its customs and traditions, trying its foods, and practicing its customs, you can bring good luck and positive energy to your life. So why not start talking to your family and friends about Setsubun and make it a special day to look forward to every year?
Mamemaki – The Fun and Traditional Bean-Throwing Practice on Setsubun
Mamemaki is a traditional Japanese practice carried out on Setsubun, which is usually celebrated on the 3rd or 4th of February. The word “Setsubun” means “seasonal division,” and it marks the start of a new season. Mamemaki, which means “bean-throwing,” is the main custom of Setsubun and is considered an essential tradition in Japan.
How is Mamemaki Carried Out?
During Mamemaki, people throw roasted soybeans, called “fuku mame,” inside and outside of their homes while shouting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” which means “Demons out, Luck in!” This practice is believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck and prosperity to the household.
Why is Mamemaki Considered Important?
Mamemaki is widely known and celebrated throughout Japan and is considered one of the biggest and most special events of the year. It is an official holiday in some parts of the country, and people take extra measures to ensure that they have all the necessary ingredients for the practice.
What are the Ingredients for Mamemaki?
The main ingredient for Mamemaki is roasted soybeans, which are sold in special Setsubun packs in stores all over Japan. Some people also add extra ingredients like money, candy, or an egg to the beans to bring extra luck and prosperity.
What is the History Behind Mamemaki?
The practice of Mamemaki started in the 13th century and was originally carried out to purify the entire household and ward off evil spirits. Over time, it became a popular practice to welcome the new year and bring good luck and prosperity to the household.
What is the Significance of Mamemaki in Japanese Culture?
Mamemaki is a staple tradition in Japan and is widely known throughout the world. It is a way for people to come together and celebrate the start of a new year while also warding off evil spirits and bringing good luck and prosperity to their homes. The practice of Mamemaki is a testament to the importance of tradition and culture in Japanese society.
Delightful Eats for Setsubun Festival
Setsubun is an important tradition in Japan, and it is celebrated on February 3rd every year. People believe that on this day, evil spirits and bad luck are driven away by throwing roasted soybeans and shouting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (Out with the demons! In with good luck!). But Setsubun is not just about driving away evil spirits; it is also about enjoying delicious food. Here are some traditional foods that are eaten during Setsubun:
- Ehomaki: This is a type of sushi roll that is eaten on Setsubun. It is a long, cylindrical sushi roll that is filled with various ingredients such as cucumber, egg, and crab. The roll is sliced thinly and eaten in silence while facing the lucky direction of the year. It is believed that eating ehomaki brings good luck and prosperity for the entire year.
- Ozoni: This is a traditional soup that is made with mochi (rice cake) and various ingredients such as chicken, vegetables, and fish. The ingredients used in ozoni vary depending on the region of Japan. For example, in the Kanto region, ozoni is made with a clear broth, while in the Kansai region, it is made with a miso-based broth. Ozoni is an important dish that is served on New Year’s Day and Setsubun.
- Sweet Beans: A dish called “amazake” is made from fermented rice and is served hot. It is a sweet drink that is popular during Setsubun. It is believed that drinking amazake brings good health and prosperity.
Modern Takes on Setsubun Foods
While traditional Setsubun foods are still widely loved and eaten, there are also modern takes on these dishes that are becoming increasingly popular. Here are some modern Setsubun foods that you might find in Japan:
- Setsubun Bento: Many convenience stores and supermarkets offer Setsubun-themed bento boxes that come with a variety of dishes. These bento boxes usually come with a small ehomaki roll, sweet beans, and other dishes that are associated with Setsubun.
- Coal Roasted Ehomaki: In recent years, a new type of ehomaki has become popular. This ehomaki is called “sumibi yaki ehomaki” and is made by roasting the sushi roll over hot coals. The roasted ehomaki has a slightly smoky flavor and is served hot, making it perfect for the colder months.
- Setsubun Egg: Another popular Setsubun food is the “Setsubun tamago.” This is a solid egg dish that is sliced thinly and served with various toppings such as mayonnaise and green onions. It is a popular dish that is served in many restaurants and is also available in supermarkets.
So there you have it- everything you need to know about Setsubun. It’s a unique Japanese festival with ancient roots that marks the beginning of spring.
It’s a time to remember the past and look forward to the future, and it’s a great way to celebrate with family and friends.
Check out our new cookbook
Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.
Try it out for free with Kindle Unlimited:Read for free
Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.