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Setsubun (節分, "seasonal division")

Setsubun-sai is an ancient Shinto celebration that became popular in the 13th century.  It marks the start of the new year and is celebrated early February every year.  It marks the end of Kan, the coldest season, and welcomes the beginning of Spring.  It comes right before Rishun, the first day of Spring in the Japanese Old Lunar Calendar.  While it is not regarded as a national holiday many mark the event in their calendars and celebrate at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.  It is common for celebrities and other well known personalities to come out in observance of Setsubun.

Setsubun I J-Life Internationalphoto source:

There are many rituals and practices on this day.  In the 13th century it was customary to drive away evil spirits by the smell of burning dried sardine heads, the smoke of burning wood and the noise of drums.  While this is not a popular custom anymore there are still some that decorate the entrances of their homes with fish heads and holy tree leaves in order to deter evil spirits from entering.

Setsubun I J-Life International
photo source:

Today the most common festivity is the throwing of beans, Mame-maki.  Soybeans are roasted to symbolize the sealing of evil and the prevention of having that same evil come back in the new year.  The space in which the ceremony is performed is then purified by the scattering of the beans while chanting “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi” which translates to “demons out, luck in”.  After throwing the beans they are picked up and one is supposed to eat the number that corresponds to your age.  Another popular tradition is the eating of Eho-maki sushi rolls.  It is customary to eat the roll without talking, while facing the lucky direction of the year.

Setsubun I J-Life Internationalphoto source:




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