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"Setsubun" in Japan Heralds the Arrival of Spring!

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

" Drive-away-demons-with-beans" act and related event foods The photo above is from the annual "Mamemaki", bean-throwing ceremony held at Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto on "Setsubun" in early February. "Setsubun" is the day before spring begins, and the next day marks the start of a new year. The geiko and kabuki actors throw small bags of roasted soybeans at the crowd. A large crowd of spectators is waiting to catch them. We introduce the origin of Setsubun and Mamemaki, which are cherished as traditional Japanese events that bring in good fortune and spring, and the unique foods associated with the special day. Table of Contents 1. What is the origin and meaning of "Setsubun"? 2. What is "Mamemaki" to drive away demons? 3. Procedure and Rules of Mamemaki  4. Eating "Eho-maki" silently on Setsubun, Why? 5. Summary

1. What is the origin and meaning of "Setsubun"?

Setsubun" means the "division" of the seasons. Initially, there were four divisions for each of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, but nowadays, only the day before" Risshun," the beginning of spring (usually around February 4), is called "Setsubun." In 2022, Setsubun will be on February 3 as usual. Since February 4 in 1984, Setsubun has been set on February 3, but in 2021, it was set on February 2, which made a buzz. In 2025, Setsubun will be on February 2 again. If we think of the year as revolving in the order of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, Setsubun, the day before the change of seasons between winter and spring, is the last day of the year. Since Risshun is the beginning of a new year, events such as bean-throwing to get rid of bad luck are held on Setsubun, the day before Risshun.

2. What is "Mamemaki" to drive away demons? 

So, how did "Mamemaki" begin? Have you ever tended to get sick when the seasons change? Mamemaki is a ritual to drive away from the illnesses and misfortunes that tend to occur at the turning of the seasons, by making them look like "Oni (demons)." Originally, the ritual of "Tsuina (driving away evil spirits)" was held at the Imperial Court on Setsubun, but it spread to the general public and became popular. In Japan, there are various tales and legends about "Oni" (demons), but we can say that humans created them in the first place. We have been accustomed to saying that the invisible and inexplicable causes of fear such as illness, disasters, accidents, and hunger are the work of Oni. With their horns and fangs, Oni embodies human fear and anxiety. Also, since we believed that Oni comes at night, Mamemaki is done at night (most events at temples and shrines are held during the day, though). The beans used for Mamemaki are called "Fuku-mame(Happy beans)." Since ancient times, people in Japan have believed that grains such as rice and beans have spiritual power. By roasting soybeans, putting them in a Masu, square wooden box, and offering them to the altar, they become " Fuku-mame," or beans with the power of the gods to ward off evil spirits. Since eating Fukumame gives you the power of the gods, many people gather at temples and shrines to get the Fukumame that is thrown at them during the bean-throwing ceremony.

↑ Two Onis at Go'o Shrine in Kyoto. They are said to be kind demons who are willing to take photos.

3. Procedure and Rules of Mamemaki 

Now, let me explain the procedure and rules of Mamemaki.