Setsubun Holiday and the Japanese Tradition of Throwing Beans

Japanese culture includes a multitude of fun and unique traditional events, and Setsubun is no different. It is always the day before the first day of spring in the old Japanese calendar. The holiday usually falls on February 3. 

Setsubun literally means seasonal division. It was believed that evil spirits appeared at the turn of the seasons. Rituals were created to ward off these evil spirits. 

Bean Throwing

The most common of these rituals is mamemaki, or bean throwing. People throw roasted soybeans toward the outside while shouting oni wa soto! (devils out!). They then throw them inside the house with the phrase Fuku wa uchi! (fortune in!). Sometimes a member of the family, usually the father or the eldest brother, wears a mask of an oni, a traditional Japanese demon, while the rest of the family members throw beans at him. Beans or grains are said to contain the vitality and magical power needed to ward off evil. This bean throwing ritual dates back to 1425, in the Muromachi era. 

To make Setsubun beans, soak soybeans in water overnight. Drain and paper dry the beans and spread on a cookie sheet. Roast in the 320° F oven until the beans become dry, nutty and crispy, for about half an hour. 

After shouting and throwing, people eat the same number of beans as their age (in some areas one more than their age) and pray for a healthy year. 

Hiiragi Iwashi is something that Japanese people also use to ward off the evil spirits,. This consists of a holly twig with a grilled sardine head skewered onto it. People put these on the entrance to their houses to keep bad spirits away.

Ehomaki

There is a relatively new and delicious ritual for Setsubun, called Ehomaki, or lucky-direction sushi rolls. It brings luck if it’s eaten in silence while facing the lucky direction on the day of Setsubun. This ritual likely originated in the city of Osaka in the 1930s.  

The sushi roll should have seven different ingredients. Japanese people believe that the number seven relates to the seven gods of good fortune, wishing for prosperous business and good health. There are no set rules on what kind of ingredients you should use. However, popular choices include fluffy omelets, sweet and salty shiitake mushrooms, grilled eel and pickled daikon radish. You thinly slice ingredients and then roll with rice and seaweed.

Eho, or the lucky direction, is where the God of the New Year is, and it varies from year to year. This year, it is slightly south of south-southeast. Try eating your Ehomaki this year, facing the direction of slightly south of south-southeast, without saying a word from beginning to end. May your 2023 be a prosperous year!

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