Celebrating Setsubun

Well happy Setsubun to all particularly those celebrating in Japan and “Out with the ogre! In with happiness! (Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!)” For readers who are not too familiar with the Shinto-Buddhist festival here’s a brief portrayal.

Setsubun, a marker on the ancient, lunar-based koyomi calendar indicates the start of a new season. Setsubun means “change of the season”. Japanese people used to celebrate Setsubun four times a year; Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

(Image Source: www.japantimes.co.jp)

(Image Source: www.japantimes.co.jp)

Ancient Japanese believed that the world tends to become unstable during the transition of the season (Setsubun). Therefore, they used to hold various ceremonies to prevent from all kinds of devil or demons invading the society. But contemporary busy Japanese people decided to concentrate on Spring Setsubun because Spring represents a new start from winter.

The following day, Feburary 4th, is called Risshun (Lichun or りっしゅん or 立春) – the beginning of Spring. On the day of Setsubun, people all over Japan celebrate Sestubun in different ways. The most famous of these celebrations is known as Mamemaki.

Mamemaki developed to insure that evil was left behind in the old year, and good things could (and would) happen in the year to come. Oni monsters personify bad things and are traditionally expelled by shouting and throwing dry-roasted soybeans at them. Good fortune is welcomed in by chanting and catching good-luck beans tossed out by Otafuku (Goddess of Good Fortune) Throughout Japan, at temples, shrines, places of business these rituals are followed. In schools, children make monster masks they done while they yell:

  • ONI WA SOTO (throw the ogres out!)

This is said standing at the entrance to your home and/or place of business while throwing several beans OUT, over your shoulder.

  • FUKU WA UCHI (bring in good fortune!)

This said after you turn around and throw a few beans over your shoulder IN to your place of business, or home.

When you go to the famous temple, sometime celebrities or local politicians throw soybeans to the people. Or Toshi-otoko (としおとこ or 年男) or Toshi-onna (としおんな or 年女) often throw soybeans out.

Toshi-otoko & Toshi-onnna are the men and women who are the age of 12, 24, 36, 48, 60 and (12 years cycle thereafter) during the year. This 12 years were determined by the Earthly Branches (Juni-shi, じゅうにし, or 十二支), the calendar system based on the orbit of Jupiter.

The people believe that the beginning of the new 12-year cycle could become unstable. Therefore, the potentially unstable Toshi-otoko and Toshi-onna throw soybeans to scare Oni away, and bring the good luck in.

At the end of the Mamemaki, you will eat soybeans as much as your new age of the year.



Helpful links for the Shinto Faith 


Danny Pio Murphy

Civil / Transport Engineer by trade, Spirituality Ireland Co-founder, polymath blogger and advocate on spirituality, equality, science, engineering, tech & wellbeing. Inertly zen in all aspects. 

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