Many Japanese people have grown up with the custom of Setsubun – a festival where roasted soybeans or manemaki are thrown at taunting ‘oni’ (ogre), or more precisely, family members wearing oni masks. That festival, is set today! Let’s find out what it is with Guidable Japan!
What is Setsubun
Setsubun represents the end of winter, according to the traditional Chinese calendar. In Japan, either the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th of February, the distinction between the end of winter and risshun (the beginning of spring) is commonly observed in the special day called Setsubun. Families celebrate with bean throwing and ogre masks made of paper.
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According to Ritual Trip Japan, Japan used the lunar calendar until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar during the Meiji period (1868-1912). So, until 1873, annual rituals were closely related to practices inspired by Chinese customs.
According to beliefs in both Japan and China, demons may be the cause of people’s bad luck and misfortune. Traditionally, Chinese people are used to purifying their homes from evil spirits during New Year’s Eve. In the 8th century, along with Buddhism, this practice was introduced to Japan. Then, Setsubun adopted the demon chasing tradition from the 14th century and it was observed in Japan as a type of New Year’s celebration.
What Makes This-Year Setsubun Special? A Date Change for The First Time Since 1984!
Setsubun has been on February 3 for centuries, so many Japanese probably believed it would always fall on this day. In 2021, though, it will be one day earlier, on February 2. What is the reasoning for this?
According to the traditional Japanese calendar reported by Nippon, the year is divided up into 24 sekki, based on Chinese sources. Risshun (the beginning of spring), always begins on February 4. This is an important day, as the beginning of the year, and Setsubun is set the previous day.
The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, the agent that measures Risshun’s start time, estimates that it will take place on February 3 at 11:59 at night in 2021. Setsubun will, therefore, be on February 2 this year.
The last time Setsubun didn’t fall on February 3 was in 1984 (on February 4). It might indeed seem like an unusual occurrence, but from this year onwards, Setsubun will fall on February 2 every fourth year, for some decades in the future.
Setsubun – An Auspicious Yearly Custom
For those who might not know, it is in Japan’s imperial court where the practice of dispelling vengeful ghosts and other specters ahead of the Lunar New Year first took root and then steadily spread across the rest of Japanese society today! The Setsubun festival is a great chance to get rid of evil spirits responsible for illness and misfortune. According to a belief, during the transition between seasons, it is easier for negative energies to appear, so people of Japan practice old rituals to drive away evil spirits and welcome good fortune before the first day of spring (Risshun).
When scattering beans, it is common to chant “oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi“, or “ogres out, good luck in,” although there are several regional variations in place!
Japanese families traditionally join the festival by having one member wear an oni mask and play the ogre’s role. This is also the head of the family or person born under the Chinese zodiac sign of the year, with the latter referred to as Toshi-Otoko for boys and Toshi-Onna for girls.
Other traditions include enjoying a special Setsubun sushi roll, called eho-maki. The practice is that in the evening of Setsubun, one should make a wish, turn to the particular Lucky Direction of the year and eat the whole roll for good luck in complete silence. The Lucky Direction is “South-Southeast” for this year 2021!
Setsubun – The Bean-Throwing Festival in Japan
Although Setsubun is not an official public holiday in Japan, it is one of the long-established favorite festivals and is widely celebrated nationally. It includes amusing and weird customs that are particularly favorable to children. These rituals are pursued by families at home as well as local communities. Public Setsubun ceremonies are organized by temples and shrines and the participation of famous TV personalities and athletes.
However, if you plan to go out for Setsubun, please keep in mind to wear a mask and practice social distance! Let’s protect your health and the people around you!
The Guidable team hopes that you found this article a helpful piece of information! After all, through all of our activities, we aim for a better life for foreigners in Japan! So, stay tuned and follow us!
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