Today, the 3rd of February is Setsubun (節分) in Japan. As a child I knew this day as a throwing beans day. Usually toward this day we made a Oni (鬼/ogre) mask at the nursery school and threw roasted soybeans at one of the teachers or often the principle of the nursery who disguised as Oni. When we throw the beans outside of the house we shout “Oni wa soto! (鬼は外/ogre, out)” and when we throw them inside of the house we shout “Fuku wa uchi (福は内/good luck inside)!”. At home we do the same. Some families, the father disguises as oni and children throw the beans at him. At my house, I threw at them to imaginary oni.
Since people throw beans this day, it´s also called “mamemaki (豆まき)”, throwing beans. Now I think about it, today can also be a festival for birds as there will be a lot of free beans every where. But why throw beans?
Mamemaki started more than 1,000 years ago. Ancient people believed that it was oni who brought them illnesses. They also believed that beans had a power to defeat ogres and that´s why they started to throw beans at them.
The literal meaning of Setsubun is to divide setsu = seasons during the year; Risshun (立春/spring), Rikka (立夏/summer), Risshuu (立秋/autumn) and Rittou (立冬/winter). Ancient Japanese people considered that apart from those days, the season officially changed. Also in lunar calendar, spring was the New Year, means Risshun was the New Year´s Eve. In some Asian countries such as China still celebrate the New Year according to the lunar calendar. You may have seen the Chinese New Year recently in the news.
Setsubun is also one of the important annual events for Buddhist temples. Usually toshi otoko (年男) or toshi onna (年女) ; people who were born in the same animal year throw the beans because it is believed that they bring us luck. It means this year, people who were born in a year of horse will be doing it.
The fun part of Setsubun for me was eating beans. To be honest, it´s not something you think it´s delicious rather tasteless, I mean just roasted soybeans. But some how I loved them. In traditional way, you eat the same amount of beans as your age. How I envy my parents to be so old and could eat a lot of beans while I was trying to bite off those tiny beans so that I could extend the time of eating. I probably don´t get so excited to be older just because I can eat more beans. But back then, it was definitely my dream to eat at least more than 10 beans.
Many fathers in Japan today may go home earlier than normal to become an oni for their children. Oni may be a bad guy who is kicked out the house but it can be a good day for some fathers to share some time with the family.
More Japanese annual event
Kodomo no Hi(Boys´ Day)