Today is February 3rd, and Japan is full of beans. Or at least the front yards are. Today is the annual Bean Throwing Festival, aka Setsubun (節分、せつぶん). Setsubun falls on 2/3 every year and serves to purify the home before spring officially begins on 2/4. The “festival” is pretty simple: you throw soybeans out the front door. It’s thought that throwing the soybeans out of the house drives away the evil spirits who bring bad luck and bad health. Many stores have display shelves full of decorative packages of soybeans, many of them adorned with a picture of an evil spirit, or oni. It’s also customary to shout, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (Evil out, happiness in) as you are throwing the beans.

Soybeans and an ogre (oni) mask.

Children gleefully throwing beans at an evil ogre (oni).





In addition to tossing the beans, you are supposed to eat roasted soy beans to ensure that you have happiness and good luck all year. You eat one roasted soybean for each year of your life. In the Kansai area, which includes Osaka, it has recently become a custom to eat uncut makizushi, or ehoumaki (blessing direction roll). (Note: I have read some articles that claim that this tradition dates back to Edo period Japan, but many of my students have told me that it actually was a marketing ploy by nori (seaweed) companies. Perhaps these “historical tradition” stories are not based on fact, but on yen!) But be careful! It doesn’t work unless you eat it all, in silence, while facing the lucky compass direction, which changes every year according to the Chinese calendar. It’s a very tricky process, acquiring happiness.

Ehomaki (恵方巻)