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Celebrating Setsubun: Driving Away Evil Spirits in Japan

Setsubun is a traditional Japanese festival that celebrates the transition from winter to spring. Held on February 3rd each year, Setsubun is a lively and vibrant event that involves driving away evil spirits and welcoming good fortune. This unique festival is deeply rooted in Japanese culture and is celebrated with enthusiasm and excitement throughout the country.

The Origins of Setsubun

Setsubun has its origins in ancient Chinese customs. The word “Setsubun” itself means “seasonal division” in Japanese, and it marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The festival is based on the lunar calendar and is celebrated on the day before the beginning of spring according to this calendar.

Driving Away Evil Spirits

One of the main highlights of Setsubun is the ritual of driving away evil spirits. This is done by throwing roasted soybeans, called “fuku mame,” both inside and outside the house while shouting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” which means “Out with the demons, in with good luck!” This tradition is believed to cleanse the house and bring good fortune for the year ahead.

Bean Throwing Ceremonies

Bean throwing ceremonies are an integral part of Setsubun celebrations. These ceremonies are held at temples and shrines all over Japan, as well as in homes and schools. People gather to witness the throwing of beans by priests or local celebrities dressed as demons. The beans are thrown into the crowd, and everyone tries to catch them. It is believed that catching a bean brings good luck and drives away evil spirits.

Eating Lucky Sushi Rolls

Another popular tradition during Setsubun is eating lucky sushi rolls called “ehomaki.” Ehomaki are long sushi rolls filled with various ingredients, such as vegetables, seafood, and eggs. These rolls are eaten in silence facing the lucky direction of the year, which changes annually according to the Chinese zodiac. It is believed that by eating ehomaki in one go, without speaking, one can absorb the luck and blessings for the year ahead.

Costumed Processions

Setsubun is also marked by lively costumed processions known as “mamemaki.” These processions feature people dressed in colorful traditional costumes, including samurai, demons, and other mythical creatures. They parade through the streets, throwing beans to drive away evil spirits and bring good fortune to the community. These processions are a visual spectacle and attract locals and tourists alike.

Setsubun Traditions in Different Regions

Although Setsubun is celebrated throughout Japan, different regions have their own unique customs and traditions associated with the festival. For example, in Kyoto, a traditional ceremony called “tsuina” takes place at Shimogamo Shrine, where people dressed as demons perform a purification ritual. In Osaka, the festival is known as “Mame-maki,” and it is celebrated with great vigor and excitement.

Conclusion: Embracing Tradition and Welcoming Spring

Setsubun is a time-honored tradition in Japan that brings communities together to celebrate the changing seasons and drive away evil spirits. From bean throwing ceremonies to eating lucky sushi rolls, the festival is filled with unique customs and rituals that have been passed down through generations. Setsubun is a vibrant and joyous celebration that embodies the spirit of Japanese culture and the anticipation of the arrival of spring.