According to the old lunar calendar of Japan, Setsubun was held on February 3 and corresponded to the last day of winter. "Setsubun" literally means "division of season" but the term is mostly used to refer the change of season from winter to spring. Traditionally, in many parts of Asia, the new year began with spring, so the Setsubun represented the last day of the year. On that occasion, people performed purification rituals to drive off the evil spirits of the past year and bring good luck for the coming year.
"Mamemaki": Ogre Bashing With Lucky Beans
Ancient rituals of purification consisted of children throwing roasted soybeans at adults wearing ogre masks. The tradition is held in many households. It's a fun day for young kids. Once the ogre has been driven out of the household, family members eat the lucky beans, one for each year of one's life. This is believed to bring good luck for the year to come.
The mask is the traditional depiction of the Japanese "oni", or ogre, representing the evil spirits which bring bad luck and disease.
Setsubun's Quintessential Food: A Lucky Sushi Roll!
This is the thing you eat for good fortune at Setsubun. It's called an "ehomaki" sushi, which literally means a "lucky direction roll". It's a big sushi roll consisting of seven lucky ingredients. There is a lucky direction towards which you should eat it which changes year to year.
Oni Yarai Shinji: Community Ogre Bashing With Lucky Beans
You can partake in this event at your local shrine. Oni Yarai Shinji first consists of shrine priests and priestesses making purification rituals at the shrine. Evil ogres then make a dramatic appearance attacking the shrine. Fortunately, the spectators are there to protect their shrine and are armed with heaps of lucky beans that they start throwing at the ogres while yelling "oni yaro!" which means something like "out with the ogres!". Others yell "in with fortune!".
Celebrities Partake In The Event
Celebrities, entertainers, and athletes are also invited to partake in the celebration by throwing beans. This is picture was taken from an event in Kyoto. You can see the women wearing beautiful winter kimonos.
There are some local variations in the way Setsubun is celebrated. In Nara Prefecture, there is the stunningly beautiful event called the Setsubun Mantoro during which 3,000 lanterns are candlelit between 18:00 and 20:30.
If you are lucky enough to be in the area on February 3, this is a must-see event. These are the lanterns leading up to the Kagusa Taisha Shrine established in the year 768. The forest behind it and the shrine itself are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.