Demons Out, Fortune In. It’s Setsubun (節分): Bean Scattering, Bad Fortunes & Demon Slaying


Demons out! Fortune in!

As we embark upon the Year of the Tiger, there are many concerns among us. Especially here in the Middle West. From the looming state of a global virus to the multi-faceted winter storm mysteriously named Landon… Blankets of snow render campus into a ice palace fit for the Snow Queen herself. But there are other stories out there. While I hunker down with a bowl of microwave miso soup and stale ramen, I am reminded of the world outside. For those of us Japanese scholars who have been denied entrance into our beloved country, a world of resources have opened through public scholarship. The digital humanities are booming as researchers in and outside of Japan work tirelessly to provide content and material to those of us with limited access. These people, these people are like beans. And the virus, a hoard of Oni, obnoxiously beating their bellies, roaring, and cracking their spiked kanabō (金棒) upon the earth. This will all make sense in the following blog. What I mean to say is thank you. Thank you everyone. Thank you for supporting me. For Providing. For your generous readership. For your tireless generosity. This past year ground me to a pulp.

But you know what, we’re going to sing. We’re going to throw our beans, embrace this spring. Out, out with you Oni! Come, come good things. Oh, and get boosted. Seriously. Are you an Oni, or a Bean? Think about it,

Demons out! Fortune in! Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! As we embark upon the Year of the Tiger it’s time we set our demons in order. That’s right, everyone, it’s Setsubun no Hi #節分の日 #節分

OK, where were we? Ah, Setsubun no Hi (節分の日)

Setsubun (節分) is the day before the beginning of spring in the old calendar in Japan. The name literally means ‘seasonal division’, referring to the day just before the first day of spring in the traditional calendar, known as Setsubun; though previously referring to a wider range of possible dates, Setsubun is now typically held on February 3 (in 2021 it was on 2nd February), with the day after – the first day of spring in the old calendar – known as Risshun (立春). Both Setsubun and Risshun are celebrated yearly as part of the Spring Festival (Haru matsuri (春祭)) in Japan.[4] In its association with the Lunar New YearSetsubun, though not the official New Year, was thought of as similar in its ritual and cultural associations of ‘cleansing’ the previous year as the beginning of the new season of spring. Setsubun was accompanied by a number of rituals and traditions held at various levels to drive away the previous year’s bad fortunes and evil spirits for the year to come.


The main ritual associated with the observance of Setsubun is mamemaki (豆撒き, “bean scattering”); this ritual sees roasted soybeans (known as fukumame (福豆, “fortune beans”)) either thrown out of the front door, or at a member of the family wearing an oni (demon/ogre) mask while shouting “Devils out! Fortune in!” (鬼は外! 福は内!, Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!), before slamming the door. 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 (kazoedoshi), plus one more for bringing good luck for the year.

The custom of mamemaki first appeared in the Muromachi period, and is usually performed by either a man of the household born in the corresponding zodiac year for the new year (toshiotoko (年男)), or else the male head of the household.

Though still a somewhat common practice in households, many people will also or instead attend a shrine or temple’s spring festival, where the practice of mamemaki is performed; in some areas, such as Kyoto, this involves a dance performed by apprentice geisha, after which the apprentices themselves throw packets of roasted soybeans to the crowds. In other areas, priests and invited guests throw packets of roasted soybeans, some wrapped in gold or silver foil, small envelopes with money, sweets, candies and other prizes. In some bigger and more central shrines, celebrities and sumo wrestlers are invited to celebrations, usually to Setsubun events that are televised.

Video by Discover Kyoto

How do you celebrate the coming of Spring?

The world is full of rich and colorful festivals marking the passage of time. I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

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