Setsubun | 節分: the start of spring
Is it still winter?
According to the groundhog, we still have a few more weeks of winter left, but according to the lunar calendar, February 3rd marks the end of winter. This day is known as Setsubun | 節分, translated as "seasonal division".
The lunar calendar from China has 24 ‘solar terms’ or micro seasons, including this start of spring. Ironically it is not the start of spring in most of China, except the far south.
In Japan, it is celebrated as a new chance to clear out evil and bring in good luck (one of many opportunities to improve your fortune, see O-souji and Nanakusa Gayu). Setsubun has its origins in ancient China, but evolved in Japan to include the modern traditions you see today.
The practice of throwing beans supposedly began during the Muromachi period (1336-1573) – over 500 years ago – and stemmed from an even earlier legend. It is one of many practices in Japan to drive away evil and bad fortune.
Fukumame, or roasted soybeans, are thrown at shrines, at temples and at home, while shouting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (Evil/demons outside! Good fortune inside!) In some cases, especially for a fun activity at schools, the beans are thrown at someone (the teacher) dressed up as an Oni (ogre, demon).
One other tradition for Setsubun is eating Ehomaki | 恵方巻き, or the "lucky direction" sushi roll (makizuchi). These are meant to be eaten uncut as one long roll, while looking in the cosmic lucky direction – which is slightly south of southeast for the year of the rabbit, 2023.
Similar to Nanakusa Gayu, Ehomaki traditionally has seven ingredients that signify "seven blessings". The specific ingredients vary but as long as you have seven, luck will come.
Both Fukumame and Ehomaki are now sold in grocery and convenience stores across Japan around Setsubun, and have started to show up in Asian grocery stores in the United States. Of course if you cannot find them in your local stores, you can certainly make them yourself!
We wish you much fortune for the start of spring, whenever it may arrive for you.