Setsubun: Japan’s Bean Throwing Festival

January 17, 2013 by

Festivals & Events, Things To Do, Travel Tips

Setsubun Beans and Oni masks

Setsubun Beans and Oni masks. Photo courtesy of Katorisi via Wikimedia Commons.

Spring is coming to Tokyo, so let’s throw some beans!

Setsubun is a day to celebrate the end of winter and the coming of spring in Japan. Traditionally beans are scattered or thrown on this day as a way to chase away evil spirits (oni). As strange as it may sound, the custom of throwing beans (mame maki) is in fact an ancient tradition that dates back as far as the Ming Dynasty in China and is still practiced by many Japanese today.

Setsubun is celebrated on February 3 or 4 each year, whichever day precedes the start of spring according to the Japanese lunar calendar. While recognized as a festival and celebrated throughout Japan, Setsubun is not a national holiday and businesses remain open.

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There are a few ways in which the Japanese recognize and celebrate Setsubun and attempt to keep the naughty oni away:

  1. Visiting prominent temples or shrines and being showered with beans by the resident monks or sometimes, by celebrities.
  2. Throwing the beans within and around the house or at someone dressed as an oni – often Dad or an older brother!
  3. Silently eating an entire nori maki (a huge sushi roll) while facing a ‘lucky direction’.
  4. Decorating their houses or a tree in front with fish heads, garlic and onion.

You can buy a packet of your own fuke mame (happiness beans) around Setsubun time in most local convenience stores. When tossing the beans (typically soy beans), you are supposed to shout “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Devils out, happiness in”), and then pick up and eat the number of beans that corresponds to your age (plus an additional one for luck in the following year). With that in mind, you might want to be wary where you throw them!

-Emma McMahon

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