In Japan we have several special days in a year. The 3rd of February is one of them, It is a day called ‘Setsubun‘.
What is ‘Setsubun’?
Setsubun is written as ‘節分‘ in Japanese which means ‘divide (分)’ ‘season (節)’. The day actually is one day before the changing of season. It seems like we used to have four Setsubun before each season in the past but since Edo era (a few hundred years ago) we particularly cerebrate only the beginning of Spring. So the 3rd of February became our ‘Setsubun’ and we celebrate the coming of Spring on this day.
So what do we do?
Traditionally we throw beans! Yes, I know it must sound a little odd. It’s called ‘Mamemaki‘. Basically Setsubun is the day we get rid of the bad spirit and welcome the good one coming into our home. So we open all the windows and door and throw beans (toasted soy beans, it is peanuts in some area instead) towards outside.
‘ONI WA SOTO! FUKU WA UCHI!‘
If you are in Japan and wandering in a town in the evening on the 3rd of February you certainly hear some voices shouting that. When we throw beans towards outside we shout ‘ONI WA SOTO!‘ which means ‘Demons go outside’ and then stand at the entrance of the house and throw the beans towards inside the house by shouting ‘FUKU WA UCHI!‘. This means ‘Luck/Happiness comes inside’. As soon as getting rid of Oni you close the door and windows so that Oni the demon does not come back into your house.
Eat Soya Beans as the number of your age
In the evening after this ceremony ends each member of the family has to eat the remaining toasted soy beans as the number of each person’s age (or plus one in some region). This is also for wishing good health for the year. It is easy eating 10 soy beans as a 10 year old child but as the years pass by some older people have to count and eat a lot of beans. You know that life is tough!
That was what my family did when I was child, but then a new custom spread out from Osaka area, the west area of Japan.
We eat a big roll of Susi called ‘Ehou Maki‘ on the day. You make a roll of Sushi with seven ingredients but not cut it into pieces. Each person has to eat the whole big roll of Sushi 1. by facing to the lucky direction (it changes each year) 2. without talking to anyone and 3. whilst making a wish.
As I said earlier Eating Ehou Maki is not my family tradition so I don’t do this every year, however, several good things have happened to me already in January so why not hope for more luck this year.
This is my ‘Ehou Maki’ this year.
It is said that Sushi roll with 7 ingredients brings us luck and happiness, so I did. This year’s lucky direction was South-Southeast. However, that is the direction from Japan so I was not sure which direction I should face in England? Then I thought the Earth is in a globe shape anyway so hopefully one direction from Japan might end up the same direction from England too (does it make sense?), so that I ate it facing to SSE in London.
My family did not do this often but there is another custom on Setsubun.
From the reason that the Oni, Demon, apparently does not like the smell of Sardine, in some area people stick a head of grilled Sardine on a branch of Ilex and place it at the side of the entrance door. The Sardine would keep the Oni/demon away from the house.
Wishing Happy 2016 for Everyone!