Beans, ogres and big sushi rolls, oh my! This quirky combination can only mean one thing, Setsubun in Japan.
Setsubun is a traditional festival on the day before Risshun, the first day of spring and of the new year, and falls on February 2nd, 3rd or 4th, per the Japanese lunar character. In Japanese Setsubun is written as 節分, meaning “seasonal divide”. Traditionally, setsubun is celebrated with the family patriarch offering roasted soybeans at the family Kamidana (Shinto god shelf) the night before Risshun. In modern days though, it has evolved into more of a fun family and community event!
Setsubun is all about ridding oneself and one’s home of evil spirits and inviting in good luck for spring.
It is said that evil spirits are more active during seasonal changes, so it is necessary to drive out any spirits before spring arrives.
The bad luck is symbolized by a volunteer (usually the dad if celebrating at home!) dressed up as an oni (鬼) or Japanese demon/ogre.
Other people will then throw roasted soybeans at this person, and chase them out of the house while shouting ‘Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!’ (鬼は外、福は内), literally ‘demons out, good luck in!’
Oni are said to be the bearers of illness, famine, and natural disasters and so people will passionately want them gone! The demons run outside, the bad luck accumulated throughout the year going with them. What’s the significance of beans, you might ask? There are a couple theories but one lies in the fact that soybeans are auspicious and house the god of grains. Along with that, the process of roasting soybeans in Japanese is called “mame o itaru”「豆を炒る」, which can also mean, “shooting demons in the eye”「魔目を射る」 !
This fun ritual, which has its origins in a practice from the Nara period (710-794 AD), is also held at schools, temples and shrines all across Japan, with demons running amok amongst the crowd, getting showered with beans along the way!
Hopefully all this bean throwing will make you hungry, because once the demon has successfully been expelled and comes back to the house as a god bearing good luck, everyone eats the number of beans that corresponds to their age (plus one more for good luck). Doing this is supposed to ward away illness and keep those pesky demons away.
Along with beans, people enjoy a particular type of futomaki (thick rolled sushi) called Ehoumaki with colorful fillings.
Traditionally it is made with seven different ingredients, which are a reference to the seven gods of good fortune called Shichifukujin, but can contain anywhere from 5-10 ingredients. Traditional fillings include simmered shiitake, cucumber, seasoned kanpyo (gourd strips), anago or unagi, shrimp, sakura denbu (dried codfish), and tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette), although today you can find all kinds of yummy variations.
The one critical thing about ehoumaki though is that you need to eat it uncut like a burrito, while you face the year’s lucky compass direction (determined by the year’s zodiac symbol) and silently make a wish. Cutting foods close to the New Year period is seen as inauspicious, so good luck getting it down in one go! By the way, the lucky compass direction for 2022 is north-northwest.
Want to celebrate Setsubun at home?
All you need are some roasted soybeans (peanuts are also used in some regions in Japan!), a willing volunteer to play the role of the oni, and a big sushi roll. You can easily make a sushi roll at home with all your favorite ingredients, just make sure that it’s a thick one. (Our Sushi Roller makes it so easy to roll away!) Though Setsubun and its rituals might seem a bit offbeat, we personally can’t think of a better way to get rid of the winter blues and get ready for springtime!
Did the Bento&co team celebrate Setsubun? Of course! Check out our IG Live video where we make Ehomaki AND ward off the evil spirit who came to our shop.