Setsubun - Throwing grain at Oni to enter the spring

Did you know that in Japan there is a holiday where people dress up as oni (demons), while others throw soybeans at these people? Today we’re going to talk about the spring festival called setsubun.

At that time, climate change usually causes illness, which is why the Japanese believed that the cause could be demons, so they startled them with soybeans screaming "Oni out! Good luck inside!". 

The passing of the seasons has names: Spring (risshun), Summer (rikka), Autumn (risshuu) and Winter (ritto);

What is Setsubun?

Setsubun [節分] literally means “to divide or separate seasons”, it is a holiday celebrated in the beginning of February to say goodbye to the winter and to enter the spring (it usually falls between the 2nd to the 4th of February).

That day happens Mamemaki  [豆撒き] a ritual conducted by the head of the family or member who has the Chinese sign corresponding to the year. In this ritual, roasted soy beans are thrown at someone dressed in the Oni mask (ogre, demon).

During this ritual the members shout: “Fukuwa Uchi"(Welcome to happiness, luck, good things)"Oniwa soto”(Apart from Devils, bad luck, bad things). This custom was introduced by the Chinese to Japan in the eighth century.

In Japanese it is written: 鬼は外福は内

Origin of Mamemaki Oni

Like most customs, this was introduced by the Chinese. In Japan, this ritual began at the ceremony called Tsuina or Oniyarai, which was performed in late winter, at the Emperor’s home from the Heian period (794-1185).

In the story the characters represented are an Oni and a woman. According to an old legend, an old woman tries to steal something from an old man. However, the figure of the old man was a disguise of the Oni (ogre) who has the power to disguise himself as a human being.

When the old man saw the theft, he ended up revealing his true ogre nature. With the fright, the old woman picked up the first thing she saw: soy beans and threw them at him. That’s how the tradition of throwing soy beans mamemaki.

This custom dates back to the year 706 when “peach twig” was actually used, only after the story mentioned, began to use soy beans. Peach is related to the fable of momotarou who defeated onis.

Setsubun - throwing grains on oni to enter the spring

Why Soybeans?

The Japanese believe that soybeans are a symbol to purify the home and expel all bad spirits and bad luck. and the spring setsubun was and perhaps still is considered by some to be the Lunar New Year on the calendar, that is, a kind of New Year’s Eve.

That date was accompanied by an extensive special ritual for the purification of evil from the previous year and the removal of demons that could bring disease in the following year.

Another custom is to eat soy foods, preferably the amount of soy beans equivalent to your age to be in an excellent state of health. Among them we have natto, misoshiru and tofu, we even have an article by soy derived foods.

People also eat a special sushi called Ehoomaki. This sushi cannot be sliced, because cutting means ruptures, separation and with that you can cut the luck.

At the festival, the temples are decorated in white and red, where celebrations take place, it is customary to throw special grains for visitors. despite the Setusbun being celebrated throughout Japan, it is not considered a national holiday.

The channel video below shows a little more about this ritual Mamemaki practiced by students at a school:

Share This Article:

Leave a Comment