“鬼は外！福は内！(Demons out ! Luck in!)”
In the Setsubun festival, Japanese people say 鬼は外！福は内！and throw beans out opened doors and windows to drive away evil spirits and bring in good fortune.
節分 (Setsubun) is one of the most well-known spring events for Japanese people.
In this article, you will understand how to enjoy Setsubun and all about Setsubun’s rules, culture, and history!
What does 節分 (Setsubun) mean?
The original meaning of 節分 (Setsubun) is “the day before the equinox or solstice.” (These equinoxes and solstices are called 立春 (the beginning of spring)、立夏 (the beginning of summer)、立秋 (the beginning of autumn)、立冬 (the beginning of winter)). So Japan has four 節分 a year.
In the old Japanese eras, the new year started from spring. 節分 of 立春 was the most important 節分 for ancient Japanese. Now when we say 節分, it indicates one day before 立春.
節分 is important for Japanese people because it is a sign of the beginning of a new spring!
What is 節分 (Setsubun) like?
You can enjoy three things at the Setsubun festival.
The first is activity, the second is a meal, and the third is decoration!
Japanese people do 豆まき (mamemaki) during Setsubun. 豆まき is throwing beans through opened windows and doors to drive out evil spirits and get luck in.
When you throw beans, you say 鬼は外！福は内！(Demons out! Luck in!).
Each area has their own rules. In a place called 鬼石 (Onishi, or literally, “demon rock”), people actually say 鬼は内！福は内！ (Demons in! Luck in!) because people feel bad for the demons always being driven out. Other areas, especially Hokkaido and cold areas, people throw peanuts instead of beans!
If you get a chance to participate in a Setsubun festival in Japan, enjoy Setsubun with the rules of the area you are in!
Ancient Japanese thought crops like rice, oats, and beans have holy spirits inside them and their power can drive out evil spirits and protect people from bad luck.
The beans have to be roasted because it is said that it’s bad luck if raw beans sprout after being thrown. Those beans hit demons, so they got corrupted with evil.
How did it start?
豆まき derives from the Chinese event 大儺 (Taina): the yearly event to drive demons away. From the Nara era (706~), the imperial family started 追儺 (Tsuina) as an annual event during the ancient大晦日 (Oomisoka, the end of the year). In that event, they started 豆打ち(Mameuchi), throwing beans.
The event spread to many shrines and temples in the Edo era. Then, people started to call the event 豆まき(Mamemaki) because it looks like sowing beans (豆をまく).
恵方巻 (Happy direction sushi roll)-Meal-
恵方巻 (Happy direction sushi roll) is a long sushi roll you eat pointing towards the happy direction of the year. Japanese people believe that the cardinal directions (north, south, east, west, etc.) have meaning. Some directions have good luck, and others bad.
There are seven ingredients in 恵方巻. There is no rule for the ingredients. If it has seven different types, you can put in anything you want!
But there is a rule how to eat 恵方巻. You have to eat the long sushi roll in one go!
How did 恵方巻 start?
This event started in Osaka in the Edo era. When business men and performers came to an entertainment area in Osaka at Setsubun, they had sushi roll for celebrating the new spring and praying for a happy new year.
That custom got popular all over Japan around 1980, in the Showa era, because Japanese convenience stores started to sell 恵方巻 (Happy direction sushi roll) in all Japanese areas.
Japanese people put a special plant with a grilled fish head on the side of a door on the night of Setsubun. This decoration is called ヒイラギいわし(柊鰯). It is really weird-looking for foreigners but it has an actual reason for its display.
ヒイラギ means holly olive, originated in East Asia like China, Taiwan, and Japan. いわし means sardine. You can get sardines in any Japanese supermarket.
Japanese people think ヒイラギいわし protects us from evil because its leaves have sharp spikes. The spikes of the plant stab demon’s eyes.
This custom is not practiced in all of Japan. Hokkaido and Kyushu don’t do this.
Why is a fish head stuck on a holly olive?
A fish head is stuck on the plant because Japanese people believe demons don’t like the stinky smell from the fish head.
ヒイラギいわし has spikes and strong smell, so it is a strong charm for protecting your family from bad demons!
Corona out! Luck in!
The anime Demon Slayer has been a big hit in 2020 and 2021, too. Demons are influencing Japan's culture even now!
Now, the coronavirus has stricken more fear into the hearts of people than demons.
Everyone, please wash your hands, gargle, wear a mask, and take care of your health!
コロナ外！福は内！(Corona out! Luck in!)