Setsubun: Throw Some Beans

Feb 15, 2020

Setsubun: Throw Some Beans

Setsubun is the day before the beginning of spring in Japan, and has its origins in a Chinese custom introduced to Japan in the eighth century.

The name literally translation is “seasonal division”, and usually refers to the spring Setsubun, which is celebrated yearly on February 3 as part of the Spring Festival.

Associated with the Lunar New Year, the spring Setsubun can be and was previously thought of as a sort of New Year’s Eve, and so was accompanied by a special ritual to cleanse away all the evil of the former year and drive away disease-bringing evil spirits for the year to come.

This special ritual is called mamemaki or “bean scattering”.

The custom of mamemaki first appeared in the Muromachi period.

Roasted soybeans (called “fortune beans” (fuku mame) are thrown either out the door or at a member of the family wearing an Oni (demon or ogre) mask, while the people say “Demons out! Luck in!” Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!) and slam the door.

Indeed, this is still common practice in households, and many people will attend a shrine or temple’s spring festival where this is done. The Narita temple near my home has a grand event every year and many famous sumo wrestlers and celebrities attend to “throw the beans”

See a video of the festival here.

The beans are thought to symbolically purify the home by driving away the evil spirits that bring misfortune and bad health with them. Then, as part of bringing luck in, it is customary to eat roasted soybeans, one for each year of one’s life, and in some areas, one for each year of one’s life plus one more for bringing good luck for the year to come.

Make sure to throw some beans on February 3 to drive away evil spirits and bring in the good ones, and have a banner year.