Celebrate Setsubun: learn about this fun and food-oriented Japanese spring festival!

What’s blue and red and terrified of roasted soybeans? If you know the answer, it’s time to celebrate Setsubun!

Celebrated the day before the first day of spring in Japan (February 3rd), Setsubun means “the changing of the season” or “seasonal division”. Although there are technically four setsubun a year, the spring setsubun celebration is celebrated as a way to ward off misfortune and welcome in good luck before the Lunar New Year starts on February 5th. Setsubun is celebrated as part of Haru Matsuri or the Spring Festival. 

The most important ritual of Setsubun is called mamemaki (“bean scattering”). Traditionally, people believed that oni (a blue or red horned demon) caused misfortune and ill health, and that oni roamed free at times like the changing of the seasons. Luckily, somewhat like western traditions around vampires and garlic, oni can be frightened off with delicious roasted soybeans. To celebrate mamemaki, families throw roasted soybeans outside the door of the house to scare away the oni  -- and in some families, you throw the beans at a relative who is wearing a paper oni mask. While everyone pelts the “oni” with roasted soybeans, they shout “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Oni out! Happiness in!”) before slamming the front door shut. Once you’ve finished throwing the beans, you can eat some for extra good luck. You’re supposed to eat one bean for each year of your life, plus one extra year.

For even more good luck, you can try to eat an entire un-cut ehou (“good fortune”) futo maki sushi roll. A tradition that started in the Kansai region of Japan (near Osaka and Kyoto), this oversized roll is made with seven ingredients that correspond with the seven gods of fortune in Japanese folklore. Rolling the ingredients together also brings luck, and the roll is left uncut because cutting the roll on Setsubun would symbolize slicing up your good fortune or severing your good relationships. To properly observe this tradition, you must eat the entire roll in complete silence while facing the lucky direction for the year and making wishes. The lucky direction changes each year according to signs of the zodiac, and for 2019, it’s east-north-east.

To really frighten the oni and ensure a great year ahead, make sure you eat some grilled sardines, or, if you live in the Kanto or Nara regions of Japan, you can put together a small talisman of sardine heads and holly leaves (to be hung outdoors!). Oni hate fish, and they’re scared of scratching their eyes on pointy leaves.

To immerse yourself in some wonderful family memories about Setsubun, try this read - and this video gives you a glimpse of what the bean throwing looks like at a temple in Tokyo. Then, it's time to make some sushi! If you're new to making sushi, try this easy tutorial from our community—then find out more about the seven lucky ingredients in eho-maki sushi. Learn more about Lunar New Year and try your hand at some delicious and lucky recipes just in time for the Year of the Pig with our post on Chinese New Year. And for more ideas to ring in the Lunar New Year, follow us on Facebook or Instagram!

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