Writer: Karen W.
Editor: Karen W.
Translator: Trang D.
How is everyone spending this winter vacation? In my January article, I already introduced Japanese New Year’s celebration and I hope you enjoyed reading it. I really enjoy the Japanese New Year, which I expressed in that article. (This link’s Japanese New Year’s celebration article https://timesoftiu.com/2021/12/31/new-year-festivals/)
How about you? I hope that our articles on Japanese culture will help bring you closer and closer to the unique traditions of Japan. I am writing a series of articles on “Japanese culture” with the hopes that TIU students, especially our E-track students, can get to learn more about Japanese culture. So, for this month’s article, I would like to introduce the traditional Japanese, Setsubun.
- What is Setsubun?
Setsubun (literal translation: seasonal division) is said to have its origins in an event called “Tsuina,” which was held on New Year’s Eve in the Heian period (794-1192) in the Imperial Palace (where the Japanese emperor used to hold political affairs). It is said that this event was a ceremony to drive away the “Toneri”, who dressed up as plague demons, by the “O-shonincho”, who became the “Ho-sou-shi” (a demon-chaser), wearing a four-eyed mask. It is said that the chief priest who participated in this ceremony would use a peach bow and a reed arrow to protect the “O-shonincho”.
Do you know why Setsubun is held in February although it is considered to be a New Year’s Eve event? This is because the calendar used in the Heian period and the modern calendar are different.
The calendar used today is the “Gregorian calendar (also known as solar calendar),” which is based on the movement of the sun. The lunar calendar used in the past was called the “lunisolar calendar,” and a month started when the new moon cycle began. Since the cycle of the new moon averaged a total of 29.5 days, it was about 11 days shorter than the “solar calendar” year. Today, the “solar calendar” is used but the same date in the “lunisolar calendar” is different from year to year. This New Year’s Eve in the lunisolar calendar was February 3, 2022.
- Things to do on Setsubun
There are two main activities during Setsubun in Japan.
The first activity is “bean-throwing”, which is also done in the “Tsuina” ceremony introduced in the previous section. This year, Setsubun is held on February 3, right before Risshun (February 4), the day markingthe division of two seasons, winter and spring. It is easy to feel the change in temperature when the seasons part, and it is said that we are more prone to colds and other illnesses during this transition time. Therefore, in order to lead a healthy life, it is necessary to drive these “demons” away. The most common way is to throw beans. Since ancient times, “Setsubun” has been held in many parts of Japan as an occasion when people ward off bad luck and wish for happiness in the new year. Exorcising bad luck in Japan is one of the traditions done on New Year’s Eve. Another important thing to remember is when you are throwing beans, you should also shout this out loud: “Oni wa soto, Fuku wa uchi. (Devils out! Fortune in!”). It is believed that by doing this, we can get rid of “demons” (illness and disasters) and invite “good fortune” (health and happiness) into the house.
The second ritual of Setsubun is to eat the “ehomaki” in silence, facing the direction of the year’s – “eho” (the direction of the god Toshitokujin, which is considered to be the most favorable direction of the year). Ehomaki is a thick sushi roll wrapped in rice and seaweeds, with different types of ingredients from eels, eggs, mushrooms and so forth). It is said that by doing so, one can enjoy prosperity and good health. At the same time, it can be somewhat difficult to eat the ehomaki, you should not cut it into rounds and eat it together with other dishes. This is because “cutting the ehomaki” is said to bring bad luck, since it is associated with the word “karma, meaning that a person’s relationship with another person will be hampered. In my family, we were told that, “If you can eat ehomaki facing the direction of Eboshi without saying a word, your wish will come true. By the way, this year’s direction is “North North West”. As I only know the simple the direction such as east, west, north, south, and northwest, I use a compass every time before eating to confirm the direction. You can check the link below.
- How TIU students spend Setsubun
When I asked TIU students, most J-track students (students studying in Japanese track in TIU/ non-Etrack students) answered that they would usually throw beans on Setsubun. That shows how familiar Setsubun is to J-track students. Indeed, I have took part in Setsubun in kindergarten, schools, and in various places as a child. Here is how everyone has spent their “Setsubun“:
“We throw beans at people wearing demon masks, and the number of beans we eat equals our age.”
“We usually use soybeans for bean-throwing, but in my family, we want to eat beans without wasting them, so we prepare peanuts.”
“I buy ehomaki at the supermarket and eat them facing the direction of the year’s blessing.”
“I enjoy making ehomaki with my family and I always add my favorite ingredients.”
“I usually go to the Setsubun Festival at the shrine near my house.”
I experienced my last “Setsubun” at my part-time job, as I finally reached the age when I can start working.”
I made ehomaki at the sushi restaurant where I work. The pay was higher than usual so we were quite happy, but it is undeniable that we were all exhausted after the busy shift.”
Thank you very much for reading this article about Setsubun. I hope you learned something new about the culture of Setsubun in Japan! If you have just arrived in Japan and have never eaten ehomaki before, you can always buy them at convenient stores and supermarkets, so please give them a try. When you do, make sure you don’t cut the ehomaki, and try to eat the whole thing in silence. It’s harder than you think! Anyway, that’s all for today’s article. Please look forward to our next article on Japanese culture, which will be on a special cultural event in March called Hinamatsuri (Doll’s Day)!