Setsubun, demonic cleansing season
Setsubun (SEH-TSU-BOON) is a Japanese festival that takes place on February 3, the day before the start of spring on the old Japanese calendar. It has some fun traditions to go with it. It is a day to cleanse all the evil of the previous year and drive away all evil spirits. This is done by “mamemaki” (MAH-MEH-MAH-KEY), or bean scattering. Children love this.
Chasing demons or throwing soy at daddy
Now this is fun and you can easily see why kids love it so much. Roasted soybeans are collected and thrown around the house and out of windows. Why soy? Demons obviously can’t stand the smell, or so I’ve been told. Although I notice that supermarkets often sell peanuts instead of soybeans, I suspect because they are cheaper. Maybe demons don’t like peanuts either.
In any case. When throwing the beans, people yell “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!”, Which more or less means “Damn it, luck!”. People really get into this. An old woman told me that when you throw the beans out the window, you need to make sure to slam the window shut as quickly as possible so that evil spirits can’t get back in! Normally, the father of the house will put on an Oni mask. An oni is a kind of devil or demon in Japanese mythology. Children enjoy throwing soybeans at him and driving him away.
Eating your age
After chasing all the demons and Dad out of the house, they all have to eat soy their age. Easy enough for kids, but some older folks I’ve talked to complain that it’s hard to eat that many. Some areas go one plus and make everyone eat their age plus one more to get lucky in the next year too. The luckier the better, I say!
Another more recent tradition is for everyone to look in a certain direction and eat a large, long sushi roll. The exact direction changes every year according to the Chinese zodiac. This year (2010) it’s West South West. You are not allowed to talk while you eat and once you start eating you are not allowed to pause until you finish the sushi roll. When you’re done, good luck will come! This tradition started in western Japan (Kansai), but has since spread to most of the country due in large part to grocery stores and sushi shops that don’t mind selling more sushi rolls each. February.
Setsubun is a fun time for everyone, and any excuse to eat a sushi roll is a good one. If you are coming to Japan around February, try to get here around the 3rd so that you too can enjoy the demon chase.