Setsubun: Spring, beans are in the air Feb. 3
For those of you venturing out in town on Feb. 3, be sure to watch out for flying beans and fleeing ogres. The Japanese celebrate Setsubun, which literally means “change of seasons,” on this day to kick off the preparation for the upcoming planting season.
The ceremonies across the nation recognize “risshun,” or birth of spring. The purification ritual “mame-maki,” or bean throwing, will be performed at homes, office buildings, schools and shrines across the country. The goal is to drive out demons and ogres, “oni” in Japanese, that bring bad fortune to the local community.
Participants fill wooden “masu,” or cups, with roasted soybeans and then proceed to throw the beans in and around their homes while shouting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” or “Out with demons! In with happiness!”
This ritual is performed to bring in good fortune and drive out the evil spirits that have been lurking during the dark and cold winter months. It is also customary for the devout to pick and eat the number of beans which corresponds to their age.
What started out as a cleansing ritual for superstitious country farmers hundreds of years ago, has grown into a national pastime. People can attend ceremonies at thousands of Shinto shrines throughout Japan on Feb. 3. Well-known politicians, sumo wrestlers and actors are often invited to the festivals at some of the major shrines to throw out beans for good luck for all those present.
Mame-maki originally began as an imperial event on New Year’s Eve to get rid of demons and welcome in the new year. It later mixed with indigenous customs of throwing beans at the time of rice-seedling planting.
Since the Edo period (1603- 1867), the rite of throwing roasted soybeans inside private homes has been performed on Setsubun.
A popular myth states that if a person silently consumes an entire sushi roll on Setsubun while facing that year’s lucky direction (yes, there is a lucky direction), their dreams will come true. Commonly called “Ehoumaki,” the sushi roll is eaten to symbolize good fortune being rolled into one. The roll is not cut in order to symbolize good relations not being cut off during the upcoming year.
For those of you who are not so sure about eating a very long piece of sushi, you can buy relatively short ones at local convenience stores or supermarket on Feb. 3rd. Please remember that this year’s lucky direction is north-north west and a little to the right (north).
Grab a compass if you need one. If you would like to purchase some roasted soybeans for your house, you can easily find them in Japanese grocery markets. It usually comes with paper ogre mask, which may be good to keep as a memory of Japan. Why don’t you use the tradition as an excuse to bring some beans to the office, in case your boss or supervisor happens to be an ogre and needs casting out?