February 3rd in Japan is Setsubun. This is the day before spring, another chance to start anew and to drive demons out and claim happiness for the new year with the start of a new season. It’s not an official holiday in Japan (so I still had to work). But as with most holidays, observed or not, it comes with its traditions.
The first and most common custom is the eating and throwing of beans. Beans are lucky in Japan and they were served with this year’s kyushokuu (school lunch). They are meant to be consumed as well as thrown outside. You are to eat your age in beans (one bean per year of age), and the rest get thrown. The idea behind the bean throwing is to drive out demons. As you cast the beans outside you exclaim “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!” (Demons outside, happiness inside!) I abided by this tradition this evening throwing a few of my leftover kyushokuu beans out onto my front porch.
Another tradition that originated in the Kansai area (Kyoto & Osaka) and has spread throughout Japan is the consuming of makisushi. One of the teachers ordered makisushi rolls for everyone to eat the night of Setsubun. You are to eat the maki sushi in its uncut roll form, facing the lucky direction (which changes each year- this year was south-south-east), in complete silence until you’ve consumed the roll. Wanting to take part in the entirety of this day’s tradition, even though I was home alone, I followed the practice and managed (through pure determination) to finish the massive roll I had, in silence (no music, no texting, no tv show in the background) facing south-south-east. I’m not sure how I managed to ganbatte my way through it.
Finally, I soaked in a nice hot bath with slices of yuzu, a citrus fruit of Japan that is also said to drive away bad spirits (the final part of the day’s traditions). All in all it was a fun experience to take part in, and the way I feel after stuffing that whole maki roll into my gut, I’d say the demons are safely at bay and I’ve got some serious happiness coming my way!
おやすみ! (Oyasumi- good night!)