Setsubun, meaning “seasonal division”, is usually celebrated on February 3rd or 4th. It is not a national holiday in Japan but rather a festival celebrated at schools, temples, and in the home. This festival involves throwing mame maki, which are soybeans, at your friends or the head of your household. Yes, you read this correctly, we Japanese throw beans at you to get the evil spirits out and to bring luck and happiness in!
Here’s how it works:
First, you purchase mame maki at the stores. The beans are usually accompanied with a mask.
If you are celebrating at school, one of your classmates wears the mask and pretends to be the oni, which is a ogre. The other classmates throw beans at the ogre while saying, “Oni wa Soto, Fuku wa Uchi!” This is to ward off any evil spirits for the coming year. It sounds much worse than it is. It’s pronounced foo-koo and translated means, “Get out, Ogre! Come in good luck/happiness!”
If you are celebrating at home, the father usually plays the roll of the ogre while the children throw beans at him. What I find most amusing about this festival is the fact that Japanese are very fixated on cleaning their homes before the New Year, yet throw beans everywhere just a month later!
After the bean throwing, you are supposed to eat the same number of beans as your age, plus one for the coming year.
In the evening, families usually eat a special thick sushi called futomaki. Rather than slicing the sushi, each person eats the roll while facing the yearly lucky compass direction, which is determined by the annual zodiac symbol.
I had completely forgotton about the Setsuban festival and was reminded while grocery shopping at my favorite Japanese market in San Francisco. If you would like to bring some luck and happiness into your home and share in the Japanese culture, all you need are beans! (I've heard that peanuts are also acceptable.)
What would be even more fun is to have the kids start throwing beans at Dad as soon as he walks in the door. How can he get upset when the children are warding off the evil spirits and bringing happiness into the home? Let me know how it works out.