The Spring with Laughter and Beans: A Dive into Japan’s 節分 Setsubun Festivities!

As the crisp winter air begins to soften and a whisper of warmth promises the arrival of spring, Japan gets ready to celebrate 節分 Setsubun, a vibrant festival marking the seasonal shift. More than just welcoming spring, Setsubun is a joyous occasion to ward off evil spirits and usher in good luck and fortune for the year ahead. This blog will tell you more about the traditions, such as activities and delights we eat!

Traditionally observed on February 3rd or 4th (depending on the year), Setsubun literally translates to “seasonal division,” highlighting its pivotal role in bridging the gap between winter and spring. This year, it is on the 3rd! So mark your calendars.

Let’s delve into the delightful customs and traditions that make Setsubun a uniquely Japanese experience:

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Unraveling Setsubun’s Origins

The roots of Setsubun can be traced back to ancient China, where a similar custom called 追儺 Tsuina was practiced. Introduced to Japan in the 8th century, Tsuina was a courtly ritual held on the last day of the lunar-solar calendar year. This elaborate ceremony involved decorating the palace with clay figures and using peach branches and walking sticks to destroy misfortune and disease. During Tsuina, there is this event called 鬼遣らい or oniyarai which aims to expel ogres.

Over time, Tsuina evolved into the Setsubun we know today. The bean-throwing tradition, known as Mamemaki, emerged in the Muromachi period (1336-1573) and gradually spread from the aristocracy to the common people. However, the custom of eating Eho-maki sushi rolls is a relatively recent addition, gaining popularity in the Kansai region around the 20th century.

Bean-Throwing Bonanza: 豆まき Mamemaki

The highlight of Setsubun is undoubtedly 豆まき Mamemaki, the bean-throwing ceremony. Armed with roasted soybeans (福豆 fukumame), family members take turns facing different directions, representing the year’s unlucky directions. With each throw, they shout, 鬼は外、福は内Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” which translates to “Devils out, fortune in!”


Children especially relish this opportunity to pelt away imaginary demons, ensuring a year free from misfortune and illness. The soybeans, believed to absorb negativity, are later collected and eaten – one for each year of your age – for added good luck.

If you are wondering where to get the fukumame and the masks, here are some recommended places!

  • Supermarket
  • Convenience stores
  • 3 Coins
  • Daiso

Not all shops have it, so be sure to check beforehand!

Lucky Bites: 恵方巻き Eho-maki

No Setsubun celebration is complete without indulging in 恵方巻き Eho-maki, which are special uncut sushi rolls. These colorful rolls, typically filled with seven lucky ingredients like tuna, cucumber, and egg, represent completeness and prosperity.

Photo By Savvy Tokyo

The fun twist? You must eat the entire Eho-maki in silence while facing the designated lucky direction of the year! This ensures good fortune flows your way uninterrupted.

This year’s direction is 東北東 Higashi Hoku Higashi, directly translated into East-North-East, so remember to face that way when devouring an Eho-maki in silence!

If you are wondering where to get Eho-maki?

  • Supermarkets
  • Convenience Stores
  • Online Stores

Beyond the Beans and Bites

While Mamemaki and Eho-maki are the most popular Setsubun customs, regional variations add a touch of charm to the festivities. In some areas, people burn dried sardine heads to ward off evil spirits, while others dress up in demon costumes and parade through the streets, adding a playful touch to the tradition.

Experience the Magic of Setsubun

Whether you participate in bean-throwing revelry, savor a lucky Eho-maki, or witness local Setsubun customs, this vibrant festival offers a glimpse into Japanese culture and a chance to embrace the promise of spring with laughter and joy. So, join the fun this or next February and welcome the new season with open arms (and a handful of fukumame!)

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