Japanese Culture 101 – Setsubun

Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!

Setsubun is celebrated every February 3rd in Japan, and is the day before spring. But, ssshh, don’t anyone mention to the weather gods that Spring was supposed to start today!

And, like Western traditions of spring-cleaning, Japanese too believe in spring cleaning, though it’s more about cleaning and warding the bad spirits and demons from the house, rather than a literal cleaning. This cleansing is performed by throwing roasted beans outside of the house and saying, ‘Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!’ and then closing the door. The phrase means ‘Demons outside, fortune inside’.

Oni mask

Oni mask

This hopefully explains the, somewhat jovial, demons that you might have seen in the supermarket or convenience stores. Some families will have one member of the household dress as a demon with those cute demon masks, and the rest of the family will throw beans at them. It’s not all just throwing food away though, to bring the good luck into the house people will eat one roasted bean for each year of their life, plus one more for good luck for the coming year.

Eho-maki

Eho-maki

Another facet of Setsubun that was originally from Kansai, the area around Osaka, has now made its way to Hokkaido. People eat a special uncut sushi roll called eho-maki, literally meaning directional sushi roll.

Finding East-North-East, the lucky direction for 2014

Finding East-North-East, the lucky direction for 2014

This special uncut sushi roll, with delicious tuna belly, salmon, prawn, egg and cucumber is to be eaten in complete silence while facing in the direction of this year’s zodiac, which in 2014 is East-North-East. Before eating it, you make a wish for the coming year, and like most wishes, you should keep it to yourself if you want it to come true!

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