It’s slowly getting warmer in Japan and there are the signs of spring floating through the air. There is a Japanese tradition for the change of seasons, setsubun (節分), let’s take a look:

Setsubun is the day before the beginning of spring in Japan. The name literally means “seasonal division”, but usually the term refers to the spring Setsubun, celebrated yearly on February 3 as part of the Spring Festival. In its association with the Lunar New Year, spring Setsubun can be and was previously thought of as a sort of New Year’s Eve, and so was accompanied by a special ritual to cleanse away all the evil of the former year and drive away disease-bringing evil spirits for the year to come. This special ritual is called mamemaki.

The custom of mamemaki first appeared in the Muromachi period. It is usually performed by the male head of the household. Roasted soybeans are thrown either out the door or at a member of the family wearing an Oni mask, while the people say “Demons out! Luck in!”and slam the door. This is still common practice in households but many people will attend a shrine or temple’s spring festival where this is done.  The beans are thought to symbolically purify the home by driving away the evil spirits that bring misfortune and bad health with them. Then, as part of bringing luck in, it is customary to eat roasted soybeans, one for each year of one’s life, and in some areas, one for each year of one’s life plus one more for bringing good luck for the year to come.

The gestures of mamemaki look similar to the Western custom of throwing rice at newly married couples after a wedding.

At Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines all over the country, there are celebrations for Setsubun. Priests and invited guests will throw roasted soy beans, small envelopes with money, sweets, candies and other prizes. In some bigger shrines, even celebrities and sumo wrestlers will be invited; these events are televised nationally. At Sensō-ji in the Asakusa neighborhood of Tokyo, crowds of nearly 100,000 people attend the annual festivities.

How will you spend this years setsubun? Good luck to you and your family!

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