Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Setsubun: Start Throwing The Beans

Today is an unofficial Japanese holiday called "Setsubun" which literally translates as "seasonal division." Though there are multiple Setsubun, the term is most commonly used to refer to the spring Setsubun, which is more properly called Risshun.

Spring Setsubun is somewhat akin to New Year's Eve and a special ritual is often performed to cleanse the evil from the past year and prevent them from negatively affecting the new year. Though there are a myriad ways to celebrate, the most common ritual is mame maki, the bean scattering or throwing. "Mame" translates as "beans." The evil spirits are called oni and commonly resemble ugly ogres.

Often, the mame make is performed by the toshi otoko, which literally transate as "year man" but generally refers to the male head of the household, or the man who are born in the animal sign of the coming year. The toshi otoko will throw roasted soybeans either outside the house or at someone costumed as an oni. While throwing the soybeans, the toshi otoko will say, "Oni wa Soto. Fuku wa Uchi." which roughly translates as "Get out demons. Come in luck."

After the mame maki, people will usually pick up the soybeans and eat them, one for each year of a persons age. Sometimes they add one soybean for added luck. These rituals have spread from households to larger events. Many Japanese temples will get involved, throwing roasted soybeans, as well as small envelopes with money, sweets, and other prizes.

There are other ways to celebrate Setsubun. One intriguing ritual involved eating Nori Maki. You face a lucky direction and must eat the entire maki roll, about eight inches long, without speaking. If you succeed, you will have much luck in the coming year. Another ritual involves placing a tree in front of their houses, which has been decorated with a sardine head and a garlic clove or onion. This tree is too supposed to keep evil away.

So go find some roasted soybeans and keep away those demons!


JacquelineC said...

wow - I'm half Japanese and I never knew this! You scoop me again. I bow to your excellence, most honorable Foodie-san.

Richard Auffrey said...

Domo arigato gozaimasu!