Setsubun: Soybeans Against Evil Spirits

Setsubun is a traditional Japanese event celebrated on February 3, with worshippers performing rituals to drive away the demons of pestilence and misfortune

  • Setsubun: Soybeans Against Evil Spirits
  • Setsubun: Soybeans Against Evil Spirits
  • Setsubun: Soybeans Against Evil Spirits
  • Setsubun: Soybeans Against Evil Spirits

Every year on Setsubun, Japanese families endeavor to evict all evil spirits from their houses with the help of roasted soybeans, also known as fuku-mame, “lucky beans”. Windows are opened and the family members scatter the beans outside chant Oni wa soto! (Demons out!). The windows are shut immediately after, and another fistful of beans is scattered in the middle of every room to the chant “Fuku wa uchi! Luck in!” Then, each member eats the number of beans that corresponds to their age or to their age, plus one. By doing so, they hope to be spared from calamity and blessed with good luck. This complex ritual is called mamemaki.
Setsubun is believed to have its origins in Tsuina, the Chinese custom of exorcising evils, introduced to Japan at the beginning of the Heian period (eighth century). In the Muromachi period, the number of coins corresponding to one’s age would be wrapped and scattered on the ground, for beggars to collect them. The beggars who collected them would bless their donors and imitate a bird song to drive all evil spirits away.
Originally from the Osaka area, this practice continued until the end of the Meiji period (early twentieth century), but bean throwing as an act of exorcism is still very common in numerous variations throughout Japan.
Hokkaidō, Tōhoku and Kantō regions
In Hokkaido, a number of winter celebrations are held in the period of Setsubun. In particular, Sapporo is famous for its snow festival, where people from all over the country gather to admire the beautiful ice figures adorning the main avenue.
Kurokawa, in Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture (Tōhoku), is known for its Ōgi Festival, celebrated on February 1 and 2. The Shinto rituals for Kurokawa Noh provided the pattern for the dances, which are still performed in theatre nowadays.
In the Saitama prefecture, it is still common practice to burn sardines and other items that produce foul smells, keeping the vermin away.
Hokuriku, Koshin’etsu and Tōkai regions
In some shrines in Kanazawa, Ishikawa prefecture, people scatter the Setsubun beans after performing the so-called Kaga manzai dances. This tradition originated in the 1500s.
Kinki district
Yoshida Shrine in Kyoto is the venue of Tsuina-shiki, a traditional ceremony for warding off evil held in the evening of the eve of Setsubun. This custom is also known as Oni-yarai (“demon expelling”): a priest wears a golden four-eyed mask and goes around the music pavilion of the shrine, accompanied by his young servants, chasing the evil spirits away. In Kyoto, in general, there is a robust tradition of eating sardines on this day.
Chūgokum, Shikoku, Kyūshū and Okinawa regions
In the Okayama prefecture, there is a tradition called mame uranai, in which beans are used to forecast the weather of the year. In Tokushima, Shikoku, kon’yaku (konjac) is eaten to perform sunaoroshi, the cleansing of the body from dirt and sand.
Finally, in Nagasaki, Kyūshū, Setsubun corresponds to the Chinese New Year and is an occasion for people to eat fried food.

Author : The Slowear Journal


setsubun  | snow Festival  | yoshida shrine  |

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