What is the true meaning of Setsubun? The Meaning of Bean-throwing, How to do it, and What to eat

Setsubun is one of the traditional events in Japan, and is now2month of May (the first day of the year)3Setsubun is one of Japan's traditional events, and is usually held on the first day of the month. Nowadays, the image of Setsubun as an event to drive away evil spirits by throwing beans (mame-maki) and eating ehomaki (rolls wrapped in eho-maki) is becoming more and more common. However, few people may know the original meaning of Setsubun. In fact, Setsubun is also related to "Nijushisekki," which refers to the turning points of the four seasons. In this issue, we will introduce the original meaning of Setsubun, the origin of Mamemaki (bean-throwing ceremony), and trivia about the event food eaten on Setsubun.

The True Meaning of Setsubun

Many of you may have been familiar with Setsubun since childhood as one of the annual events. At Setsubunkai (Setsubun-e) held every year at shrines, roasted beans are thrown in a solemn ceremony to pray for a good harvest and to drive away evil spirits. First, let us introduce the true meaning of Setsubun.

The original meaning of the word "Setsubun

Nowadays, February 3 is generally recognized as Setsubun. Originally, the word "Setsubun" was used to refer to the 24 Sekki, the four seasons of the year. The 24 Sekki are the four seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, divided into six sections each, with Risshun, Risshatsu, Risshaku, Risshu, Risshuyu, etc. positioned as each section. There is no fixed date for Setsubun, which can be February 2 or February 4, depending on the year. It is usually held on the day before Risshun, which marks the beginning of spring.

Origin of Setsubun events

It is said that the Setsubun event originated in China as a ritual to drive away evil spirits, and was introduced to Japan. The ancient court ritual called 'Tsuina' held in the Heian and Muromachi periods (1336-1573) is said to be the origin of Setsubun. Tsuina Ceremony was held on the day before Risshun, as a ritual to drive away evil spirits.


Thus, the culture was introduced from the Chinese continent, and Tsuina was held at Court, and eventually became widely known throughout Japan as an annual event. It seems that illnesses and disasters were believed to occur at the change of seasons, and Setsubun events came to be held to calm them down.

Relationship between Setsubun and Oni

Setsubun has a deep relationship with demons, which have been feared in Japan since ancient times. People in ancient times believed that demons were beings that brought misfortune and misfortune. Oni are said to appear in the direction of Ushitora (northeast), and since Ushitora falls in the middle of the night in terms of time, the custom of bean-throwing at night is said to have been established.

The Meaning and Method of Mamemaki on Setsubun

Mamemaki is one of the most widely known customs of Setsubun. Here, we introduce the meaning and origin of mamemaki.

Meaning and Origin of Setsubun Bean-throwing

The main purpose of mamemaki is to drive away ogres, which symbolize misfortune, and to invite good fortune. Roasted soybeans are usually thrown, but peanuts are also thrown in some areas. Bean-throwing is also believed to ward off evil spirits, to drive away bad luck, and to ensure good health.


There are various theories as to the origin of the practice of bean-throwing on Setsubun, but the most famous is an old tale from Kurama in Kyoto. It is said that when an ogre appeared, the ogre was vanquished by throwing soybeans at the ogre's eyes in accordance with the oracle of Bishamonten (the god of Buddhism). According to this legend, the demon's eye was shot out (i.e., the beans were roasted) to "mametsu" (destroy the demon), which is believed to be the origin of the beans to be sown on Setsubun.

How to Setsubun Bean-throwing Ceremony

Preparation for the Bean-throwing Ceremony

The first step in the bean-throwing process is to prepare the "fuku-mame" (= roasted soybeans) at least one day before the bean-throwing ceremony. The main purpose of roasting beans is to prevent them from sprouting. According to an old tradition, it is considered unlucky for sprouts to appear from soybeans that have been forgotten to be picked up.


The prepared beans should be displayed on the altar and offered to the gods until the day of the bean-throwing ceremony. In addition, holly sardines (Hiiragi-iwashi), which are roasted sardine heads stuck in a holly branch, are displayed at the entrance door. This is because it is believed that demons are hurt by the thorns of holly and dislike the smell of sardines.


Flow of the day of bean-throwing

The bean-throwing ceremony is held at night. Start with all the doors and windows of the house open. The beans are thrown with the call of "Oni wa soto, Fuku wa uchi" ("Oni wa soto, Fuku wa uchi"). Traditionally, the "New Year's Man" is responsible for the bean-throwing ceremony, but it is not necessary to be the "New Year's Man" at home. The general practice is to hold the Masu in your left hand and throw the beans with your right hand from the bottom of the Masu.


The call for the beans may vary from region to region, but the beans are thrown from the inside of the house to the outside while saying "Oni wa soto" (ogres are outside), and then to each room while saying "Fuku wa uchi" (good fortune is inside). After the bean-throwing ceremony, all doors and windows of the house are closed. After the bean-throwing ceremony, eat the number of beans added to your age. This is meant to pray for good health and good health.

What to eat on Setsubun and its meaning

In addition to the lucky beans used in the bean-throwing ceremony, there are other customs of eating certain foods on Setsubun. Let's take a look at what is eaten on Setsubun and what it means.

Ebomaki (a type of rice cake with a sweetened red bean paste)

On Setsubun, there is a custom to eat futomaki (thick rolls) while facing the direction of blessings for the year. This roll is called "ehoumaki," and it is said to bring good luck if you eat the whole roll without saying a word. Among them, the ehoumaki with seven ingredients, named after the seven gods of good fortune, is the most popular for its good omen.


There are various theories about the origin of ehoumaki, and it is not known which theory is correct. The oldest theory is that a warlord in the Warring States period ate a whole sushi roll on Setsubun day and went off to battle, winning the battle. There are also other theories, such as that it originated in the Hanamachi district of Osaka, or that it was a custom of the Edo period.


On Setsubun, there is also the custom of drinking tea with lucky beans in it. Fukucha is a cup of hot water poured over a cup of kelp, pickled plums, and three lucky beans. Like the eating of fukumame, tea with fukumame is considered to be a drink of good luck.


Rich in dietary fiber, konjac is a food that cleanses the body. For this reason, it is considered good luck to eat it on Setsubun and other annual festivals. In some regions, konjac is eaten to drive out demons that live in the house, and at the same time, to expel the bad things in the body.

Soba (buckwheat)

In some parts of Japan, there is a custom of eating soba (buckwheat noodles) on Setsubun. It is sometimes called "Setsubun Soba" and is said to be a remnant from the days when the lunar calendar was used. Since the old calendar considered Risshun to be the New Year, soba was eaten on Setsubun, just as we eat soba on New Year's Eve nowadays.


Soba is known as a food for longevity due to its long, thin shape, and as a food to ward off bad luck due to its easy to cut nature. In the Edo period, soba was considered a food of good luck.


The meat of large creatures such as the whale is also considered a food of good luck. In some areas, such as the Sanriku region, there is a custom of eating whale meat on Setsubun.

Kenchin Jiru

Kenchin Jiru is a vegetarian dish said to have been created by a monk at Kenchoji Temple in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture. It is a clear soup made only with root vegetables, without meat or fish, and was served at various events including Setsubun. In some areas, Kenchin Jiru is eaten on Setsubun as a custom from long ago.

Let's learn the true meaning of Setsubun and welcome good fortune while having fun!

We have introduced the true meaning of Setsubun, the meaning and method of bean-throwing, and the meaning of foods eaten on Setsubun. Setsubun, an important event held at the turn of the season, is one of the traditional cultures handed down in Japan since ancient times. Let's enjoy and welcome good fortune with your family and friends.