February 2, 2021
What is Setsubun?
Today is Setsubun in Japan. It is one of several very old, seasonal traditions imported from Chinese culture and based on the lunar calendar.
In the West, spring is associated with the vernal equinox (March 21), and rituals in European countries generally take place in early April.
In Japan, the beginning of February is seen as the start of a transition from winter to spring. It is a time when the seasonal responsibilities of numerous gods start to shift, and they get restless and move around.
To prevent gods of bad luck from wandering into the house, people developed a protective ritual called mamemaki (mah-may-mah-kee) or bean sowing.
On the night of Setsubun, February 2 these days, people open each window and door in the house and throw out roasted soybeans while shouting oni ha soto, fuku ha uchi! (oh-knee-wah-sew-toe … foo-koo-wah-oochee), which means “demons get out – good fortune come in!” Then they abruptly close the door or window so the demons can’t get back in. Roasted soybeans must be used because it is considered bad luck if the beans actually sprout.
When farming was the main occupation in Japan, Setsubun was an important ritual to ensure health and good crops. In some regions, people would even bring tools inside the house to prevent the evil demons from jinxing them.
These days, it’s a fun, game-like practice. People take turns wearing a demon mask and children delight in chasing the demon around while throwing roasted beans. And in a world completed absorbed in consumerism, Setsubun is also a wonderful marketing opportunity. All sorts of foods and children’s toys are sold to a population conditioned to buy during holidays like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and recently Halloween.
It’s still the evening of February 2 in some places, so get out your roasted soybeans in case the evil demons have wandered your way!