3rd of February is Setsubun in Japan

February 3, 2020 Juju Kurihara Culture, Entertainment, festivals, news, Vocabulary Tags: , , , , , , 3 Comments

Today, the 3rd of February is Setsubun (節分) in Japan and there are special events at many shrines where toshi-onna (年女) and toshi-otoko (年男) throw dried soy beans called mamemaki (豆まき). 


What are toshi-onna and toshi-otoko? 年, toshi means a year, 女, onna means women and 男, otoko means men. “People of the year” could be the translation. 2020 is a year of mouse and this year's toshi-onnna and toshi-otoko are the people who were born in a year of mouse. It is believed that they bring good luck and have the power to drive evil spirits away. People go to a shrine and try to get the beans thrown by toshi-onna and toshi-otoko are hoping to get good luck for the year. 


The video is the mamemaki event held at Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto on Sunday, the 2nd of February. 




Another important thing to do on Setsubun is, eating Ehomaki (恵方巻き). Everyone face to the specific direction where the lucky god is and eat a big roll of maki. The important point here is, eat in “silence”. I have never done this before because it was a tradition in the western part of Japan when I was younger. Also I’m a little concerned about the food waste that konbini and supermarkets are facing after this event. But I guess, this is a funny custom. 





The third important thing is decorate brunches of holly tree and a sardine head at the entrance doors. The spikes of holly leaves are believed to pinch evil’s eyes and the grilled sardine head are so stinky that evils can’t come close to your house. This is a very old custom and is mentioned inone of the oldest diary, Tosa Nikki (土佐日記) which was written in 935. Maybe you don't want to come close to the house either!



I thought Setsubun was always on the 3rd of February but it’s not. This is a day before Risshun (立春), one of the 24 seasons of the year and is the beginning of spring. In the last 35 years, it has been always on the 3rd of February but as far as I can see, it seems like it falls on the 2nd in 2021, 2025 and 2029. 


Eat the beans, get rid of the evil spirits and start the spring!! 




2020 Setsubun: https://trend-town.info/archives/28900.html

Ehomaki: https://www.oscarhome.co.jp/2017/01/31286


  1. Beth Parkhurst 3 years Reply

    What a nice way to start the new year! I wish I could be in Japan right now to catch some mamemaki.

    We have holly trees growing on each side of our front door. I don’t think I’ll put sardine heads in them, though. The neighborhood cats might be tempted to climb the trees.

    • Al 3 years

      Good point, heehee! Happy new season, everyone! =^.^=

    • Juju Kurihara 3 years

      No sardine heads for you then although the cats would be disappointed not being able to have a party. It sounds like your house is well protected with two holly trees!

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