Setsubun: Clearing Away the Demons for A New Year (Japan)

Setsubun: Clearing Away the Demons for A New Year (Japan)

Walking through a Japanese neighborhood on February 3rd, you are likely to see someone with a mask of a demon and people throwing beans at the demon repeating “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi” (Translated to “Demons go away, welcome happiness and good luck”). Or you might see someone eating a huge sushi roll while facing the direction of north-northwest. Setsubun, directly translated as “the beginning of a season,” is an annual event derived from an ancient Chinese practice.

In the 5-6th century, the Chinese sent away demons before Lunar New Year by throwing beans. The Chinese character for beans is read with the same pronunciation as the word “demon destroyer” (魔滅). People threw beans while chanting to cleanse themselves of demons and start the year fresh. The Japanese adopted this practice, along with a tradition of eating the same amount of beans as one’s age to cleanse one’s body.

More recently, during Setsubun, observers also eat a sushi called “eho-maki.” Believed to grant any wish made while eating it, this roll contains 7 ingredients, which is believed to be a lucky number. There was no formal beginning to the tradition of eating “eho-maki,” but 7-Eleven popularized the culture and made it a huge commercial enterprise in Japan. There are many variations as to how to eat “eho-maki”. Some believe in keeping their eyes closed until they finish the whole dish, while others believe in eating it while laughing. Others still believe in eating the sushi in silence. Everyone makes sure to follow the rule of eating the roll while facing a certain direction which changes annually and is said to bring good luck. While the event is over, it’s never too late to grab a compass and some jigger sushi rolls to hope for a great year.

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