Setsubun (節分)

Tomorrow is the first day of spring, and I can already feel it in the air. The wind has died down, and I don’t feel quite so reluctant to step outside my door. To mark the eve of the first day of spring, there is a festival in Japan called “Setsubun” (節分).  “Setsubun” means “seasonal division”, and is celebrated annually on February 3rd.

“Setsubun” or the “Bean Throwing Festival” includes a special ritual to cleanse away all the evil of the former year and drive away any evil spirits that were planning to come knocking. This ritual is called “mamemaki” (豆撒き) – literally “bean throwing”. Families buy roasted soybeans called “fuku mame/fortune beans” (福豆) and, typically, the father wears an “oni” (demon) mask while the kids throw beans at him and shout “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!/Demons out! Luck in!” (鬼は外! 福は内!). I heard that this is not really commonly practiced now, but lots of goods are sold for the event in supermarkets and convenience stores, and one of my students told me today that he had to go home and reluctantly put his demon mask on so that his kids could pelt him with beans and throw him out into the cold…

Setsubun goods

In the picture above you can see the “Setsubun” display in my local supermarket.  Throwing the beans is supposed to purify the home by driving away evil spirits, and then eating some beans is supposed to bring good luck. It is usual for people to eat the same number of beans as their age.

I didn’t have anyone to throw beans at tonight, so instead I decided to practice one of the other “Setsubun” rituals: eating “eho-maki” (恵方巻). “Eho-maki”, literally “lucky direction roll”, is an uncut “makizushi” (sushi roll). These rolls are sold at all convenience stores leading up to “Setsubun”. Unfortunately, when I reached my local 7-Eleven store tonight I found that this sign was all that was left of “Setsubun”:

Setsubun display in 7-Eleven

Luckily, my local Family Mart still had plenty in stock:


They even sell half-size “eho-maki”, for all those singletons out there who can’t manage a whole one! 😉  This “eho-maki” contains salmon (サーモン), herring roe (数の子), shrimp (海老), thick omelette (厚焼玉子), cucumber (きゅうり), fatty tuna (まぐろたたき) and spider crab (ずわいがに). It was really delicious!!

On the packet, you can see a compass in the top right corner:


It is thought that you should eat the “eho-maki”, without saying a word, facing in the lucky direction (which changes yearly depending on the zodiac animal). This year’s direction was south by south-east (gosh – I didn’t even know that was a direction!). Unfortunately, as I was about to chow down I realised I had no idea which direction I was pointing in. However, I was saved by my wonderful Xperia smartphone – I downloaded a compass application in a matter of seconds, found my direction, and silently munched my way through my “eho-maki”.

Checking the direction on my Xperia...

If only it were always so easy to find direction… 😉  Here’s hoping this little ritual will bring me luck and happiness this year!

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