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Setsubun – Driving Demons Out and Luck In

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/22 Traditional Culture , ,

Japan is blessed to have four distinct seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. The word setsubun (節分, seasonal division) referred to the days marking the change from one season to the next. So, originally there were four of them, but nowadays, only the day before the beginning of spring in the traditional Japanese calendar, called risshun (立春) is called by that name. Setsubun comes on either February 3 or 4, depending on the year.

Setsubun Origin

In its association with the Lunar New Year, setsubun can be and was previously thought of as a sort of New Year’s Eve, and so was accompanied by a special ritual to cleanse away all the evil of the former year and drive away disease-bringing evil spirits for the year to come. This special ritual is called mamemaki (豆撒き, literally “bean scattering”). Setsubun has its origins in tsuina (追儺), a Chinese custom introduced to Japan in the eighth century.

Demons Out, Luck In!

On the night of Setsubun, many households do mamemaki – a bean-throwing ceremony. They fill a masu (マスa wooden measuring cup) with roasted soybeans and throw the beans all about the room, shouting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (鬼は外、福は内) meaning “Out with the goblins and in with fortune!” They also open the windows, throw the beans outside, and slam the door. The beans are thought to symbolically purify the home by driving away the evil spirits that bring misfortune and bad health with them. Mamemaki is also performed to pray for the family’s well-being and good business. The custom of mamemaki first appeared in the Muromachi period. It is usually performed by the toshiotoko (年男) of the household (the male who was born on the corresponding animal year on the Chinese zodiac, read more about it here), or else the male head of the household.

roasted soybeans

Roasted soybeans. (Photo by asobi tsuchiya on Flickr)

After the mamemaki is over, everyone eats the same number of beans as their own age. It is believed that by doing so, people will be free of sickness during that year. In some areas in Japan, one for each year of one’s life plus one more for bringing good luck for the year to come.

Families with little children especially look forward to this day because mamemaki can be a lot of fun. One person acts as the goblin and runs around, while the others throw beans at the person. At some schools, the students make goblin masks and enjoy mamemaki.

setsubun

(Image from AC-Illust)

Setsubun Observance Variations

There are variations of the ritual in other areas of Japan. In Kansai region, people eat makizushi on setsubun. It is bow becoming popular nationwide due largely to marketing efforts by grocery and convenience stores. In the Tohoku area of Japan, the head of the household (traditionally the father) would take roasted beans in his hand, pray at the family shrine, and then toss the sanctified beans out the door. Nowadays peanuts (either raw or coated in a sweet, crunchy batter) are sometimes used in place of soybeans. There are many variations on the famous Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi chant. For example, in the city of Aizuwakamatsu, people chant “Oni no medama buttsubuse!” (鬼の目玉ぶっつぶせ, lit. “Smash the demons’ eyes!”).

makizushi

Homemade makizushi. (Photo by asobi tsuchiya on Flickr)

Thanks to the great fun of mamemaki, Setsubun is still a popular traditional event.

What are your thoughts about setsubun and mamemaki? Share it with us in the comments section below!

References:

1. Setsubun. Wikipedia.

2. Setsubun and Bean-Throwing. Web-Japan.

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