Setsubun 節分: A Seasonal Tradition

「鬼は外!福は内!」”Demons outside! Fortune inside!”

Throws beans at a monster, achieving weirdly satisfying results.

And thus spring begins!

In Japan, on the 3rd of February, is held the Setsubun (節分) which celebrates the coming of Spring. The name itself means “seasonal division” and used to refer to the day before the start of each season, but nowadays (officially since the Edo period) only the one before 立春 (risshun), the first day of spring, is celebrated.

This feast has roots in China’s  rite called 追儺 (tsuina) which was imported to Japan towards the start of the Heian period (end of the 8th century). This rite contained exorcism rituals. It was towards the Edo period that this practice was democratized and took a form somewhat similar to what we have today.

豆まき Mamemaki

So, in Japan, when you think Setsubun, you think Mamemaki, because this is the main attraction during this feast. Usually, kids take soybeans called 福豆 (fukumame, litt. fortune beans) and  when a “monster” (usually incarnated by a family member wearing a mask) comes in the room, they throw said beans in order to drive away the evil spirits and then slam the door. While throwing said beans, they shout 「鬼は外!福は内!」(Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!) meaning “Demons outside! Fortune inside!”.
It must be a pain to clean the room after that though 😀
Also, it’s supposed to be done at night, because historically that’s when the evil spirits came.
(By the way these 「」are the Japanese equivalents of western “quotes”, thought it’d be a good idea to point it out).

mamemaki "tools"
豆まき Mamemaki “tools”


恵方巻き Ehōmaki

The other main thing done on Setsubun day, is eating Ehōmaki to bring luck and fortune throughout the year. This tradition came from Ōsaka and consists of eating a big maki called Ehōmaki in one piece. This maki must contain seven ingredients related to the seven deities called 七福神 (shichifukujin, fortune gods). It must be eaten in silence, facing 恵方 (Ehō) the fortune direction which changes every year, so you have to make sure you got it right!
There are various opinions concerning the origin of this tradition, but the most probable one states that merchants from Ōsaka towards the end of the Edo period used to eat the Ehōmaki the day before risshun.
Although this tradition has its roots in the Kansai region of Japan, it was spread throughout the country with the help of convenience stores selling them.

恵方巻き Ehoumaki


So these are the main attractions during Japanese Setsubun! Hope you enjoyed reading!

One Reply to “Setsubun 節分: A Seasonal Tradition”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: