Setsubun

After about two years of asking various Japanese people about this holiday, I have enough information to pass it on to you, my fair reader. This year, it falls on February 3rd. It marks the official turn from winter to spring in Japanese tradition. However, it is also a holiday that involves beans, demons, and extending your life (a common theme, it seems, in Japanese food-related holidays).

Beans, Beans, They’re Good for the Heart

Setsubun - Two Second Street - www.twosecondstreet.com
Bean displays are very common in January, mostly towards the middle and a little bit of the end of the month.

And for your longevity, apparently! The holiday will start with you eating one peanut for every year you’ve been alive. But peanuts aren’t a bean, I can hear you saying. Well, in Japanese, one word for peanuts is nankinmame (南京豆), with “mame” being the most common Japanese word for bean. You eat a number of peanuts, or nankin beans, for each year of your age. This is to hopefully extend your life past 100 years. Some people will eat the next type of bean, but the versions I’ve heard here in Saitama from the people I asked never mentioned it, but other online sources have pointed to these being eaten.

Lucky Beans and Bean Scattering

Setsubun Display - Two Second Street - www.twosecondstreet.com
Cast those demons out!

The next big bean is the roasted soy bean, known as fukumame (福豆), or lucky beans. These bad boys you don’t eat, oh no! Not at first. What you do is throw these at a devil or demon (usually red or blue in color) to cast them out of your life, keeping them at bay, and providing good tidings for the coming year by casting out bad health and evil spirits. If you don’t have some poor, hapless relative willing to don the devil mask, you can simply throw the beans out your front door.

Throwing the beans is simply not enough, though: Most people will give the customary chant “Devils out, luck in!” (Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! 鬼は外! 福は内!). This wonderful little ritual is called the bean scattering, or mamemaki (豆撒き).

Lucky Meal: Ehomaki Sushi Roll

If you thought your fill of food was done for this holiday, then you thought wrong! Most Japanese people will enjoy a fully stuffed maki roll known as ehomaki, sometimes makizushi, the sushi roll you may know as with the seaweed on the outside to hold the rice and the delectables on the inside. The tradition of eating this on Setsubun originally was a Kansai-only thing, so you’d see it mostly in the Osaka/Kyoto region, but now it seems to be everywhere. They even have ehomaki-flavored potato chips!

The ehomaki is filled with some very rich ingredients: special mushrooms, gourds, egg, and rare fish can be seen inside. There are a huge variety of rolls you can indulge in, some costing a very pretty penny, but all are bought for the traditional eating. It’s best to have seven ingredients in the roll, as Japan has seven lucky gods (one of which is Ebisu, and another being Daikokuten). You also eat it whole, without cutting it into small discs like you normally would. This helps keep your bonds in tact for the coming year.

Maki Direction - Two Second Street - www.twosecondstreet.com
More east-northeast this year, it seems!

You also eat it facing a particular direction, as dictated by cosmologists observing natural phenomenon to arrive at this decision. I’ll be honest: No one could really give me a good explanation of this, so I’ll leave that one up to your imaginations. This year, the year 2019, you face East-northeast and eat your favorite maki roll.

With that, you are now Setsubun initiates. Congratulations! Are there any other food throwing holidays you are aware of? I’d love to hear about them if you do!

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