Setsubun Festival in Japan

On 3 February every year, people across Japan go to Shinto temples to participate in the Japanese Setsubun Festival or Bean-Throwing Festival. It marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring; it is one of the most important traditional events in Japan. The festival has been celebrated for centuries and has roots in ancient Shinto and Buddhist beliefs. It is nearly as popular as Hatsumode (初詣) – Visiting a Shinto Shrine for New Year.

Setsubun is a time for families and communities to come together to drive away evil spirits and welcome good fortune for the coming year. The main event of the festival is the mame-maki, or bean-throwing ceremony, where people throw roasted soybeans out of their homes and temples to symbolize the banishment of evil spirits. This is often accompanied by shouting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi” (“Out with the demons! In with good fortune”). This is the only time of the year when this happens.

櫛田神社の節分 2023年 | Fukuoka Kishida Shrine Setsubun Festival 2023

In addition to the mame-maki ceremony, there are many other associated Setsubun festivities. One popular tradition is the performance of the “Oni Theater”, where participants dress up as demons and entertain crowds with wild, humorous antics. Another popular activity is eating ehomaki, a large sushi roll that is traditionally eaten whole (not cut into typical maki slices). It is made of 7 ingredients, which is a lucky number and the number of famous gods of luck (Shichifukujin, 七福神). The most common ingredients are tuna and egg. It is eaten while facing the year’s luckiest direction, as determined by astrologers. In 2023, the direction is 南南東 (south-south-east).

In recent years, Setsubun has become a major event in Japan, with large-scale celebrations taking place at temples and shrines throughout the country. Other large celebrations take place at Sensoji Temple in Tokyo, Heian Shrine in Kyoto, and Todaiji Temple in Nara. These celebrations often feature mame-maki ceremonies with high-profile participants, as well as music, dance, and food stalls.

Setsubun is also a time for families to come together and often hold private ceremonies in their own homes. These typically involve the head of the household throwing beans and reciting the traditional incantation to banish evil spirits and bring good fortune to the family. Some families also hang scrolls featuring the “lucky direction” of the year. Another tradition is writing wishes for the coming year on small pieces of paper that they attach to branches of the traditional Setsubun decoration, the “Eho-maki bamboo”.

Setsubun is an important part of Japan’s cultural heritage. It is a time for families and communities to come together to welcome the new year, banish evil spirits, and embrace good fortune. Whether participating in large public celebrations or performing private ceremonies in the comfort of one’s own home, the Setsubun Festival is a unique and meaningful tradition that people of all ages in Japan cherish.

The Japanese Setsubun Festival is an important part of Japan’s cultural heritage. It provides a unique glimpse into the rich traditions and customs of this fascinating country. If you happen to be in Japan on 3 February, it is worth a visit to a shrine or temple.

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