Bean Throwing - Beans Falling from Hands into a Sack
Image by Antony Trivet on

Setsubun: Throwing Beans for Good Luck and Fortune

Setsubun, which translates to “seasonal division,” is a traditional Japanese festival celebrated annually on February 3rd. It marks the transition from winter to spring and is believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck and fortune for the year ahead. One of the most exciting and unique aspects of Setsubun is the custom of throwing beans, known as “mame-maki.” This ritual is not only fun but also deeply rooted in Japanese culture and symbolism.

The Origins of Setsubun

Setsubun has its origins in the ancient Chinese Lunar New Year festival, which was introduced to Japan over a thousand years ago. In Japan, Setsubun became associated with the lunar calendar and was celebrated as a way to drive away evil spirits and welcome the coming spring. It is believed that evil spirits and misfortune accumulate during the winter months, and by throwing beans, people can purify their homes and bring in good luck for the year.

The Ritual of Mame-maki

Mame-maki is the highlight of Setsubun, where roasted soybeans, called “fuku-mame,” are thrown both inside and outside the house while shouting, “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!” meaning “Out with the demons, in with good fortune!” The beans are thrown with force to drive away evil spirits and bring good luck. It is customary for the family head, usually the father, to throw the beans while other family members or even visitors try to catch them.

Symbolism and Significance

The act of throwing beans symbolizes driving away evil and bringing in good fortune. The number of beans thrown is often associated with the person’s age, with some people even throwing one additional bean to represent good health and longevity. The sound of beans hitting the floor or ground is believed to frighten away evil spirits, while catching the beans is said to bring good luck. Children especially enjoy this tradition and eagerly participate in catching as many beans as they can.

Variations and Regional Customs

While mame-maki is the most common form of Setsubun celebration, there are some regional variations that add even more excitement to the festivities. In some areas, people dress up as “oni,” or demons, wearing scary masks and costumes, and children throw beans at them to drive away the evil spirits. In other regions, people throw soybeans at a designated individual, representing the demon, who then throws them back to the crowd. These variations add a playful and interactive element to the traditional ritual.

Setsubun and Food

No celebration in Japan is complete without special foods, and Setsubun is no exception. One popular food associated with this festival is the “ehomaki,” a type of sushi roll. Ehomaki is eaten in silence while facing the direction considered to be the luckiest for that year. It is believed that by eating the entire roll without speaking, one can make a wish and ensure good luck. Another traditional food is the “fortune sushi,” which contains seven different ingredients, each representing a different lucky symbol.

In conclusion, Setsubun is a unique festival that allows people to drive away evil spirits and welcome good fortune into their lives. The ritual of mame-maki, or throwing beans, is not only fun but also deeply rooted in Japanese culture and symbolism. By participating in this age-old tradition, people can purify their homes and start the new year with a sense of positivity and good luck. So, if you ever find yourself in Japan on February 3rd, don’t miss the chance to join in the excitement of Setsubun and experience the joy of throwing beans for good luck and fortune.