February is the month of love, with Valentine's Day just around the corner. The season is gradually changing to welcome Spring with beautiful seasonal flowers blooming around the country turning everywhere pink. However, it is also the month to celebrate Setsubun, a traditional bean throwing event that serves as an important milestone day to welcome Spring and the New Year according to the Japanese lunar calendar.
In the past, rice, wheat, millet, and charcoal were also used for bean-throwing. However, while there are various reasons why soy beans became common, the most plausible theory is that the kanji for destroying evil, 魔滅, is read as mame (beans).
Rather unique but in Hokkaido and the Tohoku, the northern part of Japan uses unshelled peanuts instead of soybeans. There are no reasons why peanuts are preferred but some say that it is easier to find it on a thick layer of snow and for sanitary reasons since peanuts are covered with a hard shell to some extent so that the fruit inside does not come in direct contact with the ground or floor so can be eaten after throwing.
Chanting the Setsubun mantra
“Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Demons get out! good luck come in!”)
Especially for children, chanting this mantra and throwing beans are fun events. This mantra is an attempt to drive away evil spirits and demons and bring in happiness. However, in some places, such as shrines dedicated to demons or places named after demons, people do not consider demons to be evil and chant "Oni wa uchi, fuku wa uchi" or "Fuku wa uchi, oni wa uchi (Demons in! good luck come in!). The order and direction of throwing differ from region to region, but one example could be to start from the back of the room. First, open the doors and windows, face the outside and say, "Oni wa soto” (demons get out). Then close the doors and windows and say "Fuku wa Uchi" (good luck come in) towards the entrance. To make this a fun event, in many households, fathers wear a mask of a demon and let their children throw beans at him to celebrate the day. Originally, the "demon" during Setsubun is an "evil spirit," not a tangible object so in terms of the meaning of bean throwing, it doesn't matter who becomes a demon or not.
Lucky Sushi Roll
Aside from beans, eating Ehomaki, a lucky sushi roll has become a standard tradition during Setsubun in recent years. This custom is believed to have begun in the Kansai area and has its origin in Osaka. Unlike typical sushi rolls, Ehomaki is sold uncut. It is customary to eat a whole Ehomaki without cutting it. To avoid the good luck to escape, one must finish the whole roll in silence, without talking to others while eating. It is believed that if you cut the Ehomaki with a knife, it will "break the bond" between you and the outside world or the person you are eating it with. Therefore, it is important to eat the whole roll in one go so that you can take advantage of the good luck. While the lucky direction changes by years, traditionally, everyone holds one of these lucky sushi rolls and faces that direction and eats it.
Celebrations at Shrines and Temples
Shrines and temples around Japan hold Setsubun celebrations annually. Here are some of the recommended shrines to consider taking a visit to. Depending on the social status, the festivals might not be held so checking their webpage prior to the visit is a must.
Tsuruoka Hachimangu Shrine
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine receives 2.5 million visitors a year. The bean-throwing festival at this shrine is the most popular Setsubun festival in Kamakura. Because of the popularity, numbered tickets are required. The numbered ticket distribution point is located on the way to the main hall from the approach. There are security guards and shrine maidens, so you can't miss them. Once you have the tickets, you can wander around the shrine or take a visit to the restroom before joining the celebrations. However, if you want to get a lot of beans, you'll need to go up close so going in early and saving a spot is necessary. Every year, the number of tickets to be distributed differs so if you really want to get inside, going early is the key.
Setsubun (bean throwing festival) at Tsuruoka Hachimangu Shrine
Sensoji Temple is a Buddhist temple in Asakusa, downtown Tokyo. It is the oldest temple in Tokyo too. A stage is usually built on the right side of the main hall, and beans are thrown from the top of the stage. Annually, celebrities gather here on Setsubun festival to throw beans to the crowds and many visitors come to see them in addition to getting some good luck.