Friday, February 3, 2012


Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!

February 3rd is somewhat of a holiday in some parts of Japan. Much like how we view Groundhog's Day, setsubun is the beginning of spring in Japan. The kanji translates to "season division" and is commonly known as the bean-throwing festival. The purpose is to chase away bad spirits and welcome the coming of spring.

The ceremony, called mamemaki, is still done in some rural towns, but most people will attend a shrine or temple where celebrities will host the event. Elementary schools make a whole day of it and will prepare themselves for the ceremony. So it works like this:

A male (usually the head of the household) will wear an oni (demon or ogre) mask and stand outside the house. The family throw soybeans while shouting "oni wa soto! fuku wa uchi!" (Demons out! Happiness in!) and then slam the door. Then each family member eats their age worth of roasted soybeans. There is some discrepancies depending on what part of Japan you are in. One coworker from near Tokyo says you throw roasted soybeans. Another from further south says to toss raw soybeans so the oni won't eat them and come into the house.

Another tradition is to eat an uncut sushi roll. To me, this sounds quite difficult! A sushi roll is made, but not cut into pieces. Instead you eat it in silence while facing the annual lucky compass direction.

Sorry, Punxsutawney Phil. This year we had a setsubun ceremony to welcome Spring!

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