February 3, 2005 – Setsubun

Roasted soybeans ready for throwing at demons

Happy Setsubun!

Setsubun is a traditional festival in Japan to celebrate the start of spring on the old calendar. It is celebrated every year on February 3 or 4. The characters used to write the name, 節分,  literally mean “season” and “divide”. It is famously known as the day where you can throw soybeans around your house.

To properly celebrate throwing soybeans around your house, you first need to prepare an offering of roasted soybeans on the family alter. After the sun sets, the head of the house or another lucky member of the family goes around the house throwing beans at entrances and dark corners while yelling “oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi”. This roughly translates to “demons go out, good luck come in”.

After dispatching any demons in the house, people may participate in one of many regional or family variations to the celebration. I asked my students to give some examples (in English), and here are some of the ideas they gave:

  • Try to eat the number of soybeans that matches your age.
  • Eat a large, uncut sushi roll while facing this year’s lucky direction. (This year’s lucky direction is west south west for those who are interested) The goal is to eat the entire sushi roll (25-30cm long) without stopping.
  • Someone dresses up in a demon mask while kids throw soybeans at them.
  • Hanging a burning sardine head outside the main entrance to the house to keep evil spirits away.

In addition to throwing beans and burning fish heads (urgh), there are often celebrations at Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines. Cities may also have their own variations; Mishima had one of their main streets lit up with lanterns in the evening.

After a year and four months in Japan, daily life is becoming more and more routine. However, I have only started scratching the surface of learning about the rich and interesting culture in Japan. In addition to being very interesting for me, it’s also a great opportunity as an English teacher to get the students talking about their culture and traditions. Everyone has fun trying to explain to the Canadian teacher why they throw soybeans around the house every year.

I wish you all a lucky, demon free year!

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  1. February 3, 2005 – Friends and bad haircuts | Drinking in Japan
  2. February 4, 2005 – Oni wa soto | Drinking in Japan

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