A Japanese Bean-Throwing Festival? Not as Silly as It Sounds

'Setsubun' is about the first day of spring and inviting in good fortune

View of massive cherry blossoming in Tokyo, Japan as background. Photoed at Chidorigafuchi, Tokyo, Japan.
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Setsubun is a virtual dividing line that marks the beginning of spring every year on February 3, give or take a day. It is the day before the first day of spring, called risshun. Setsubun is celebrated with a Spring Festival, aka Bean-Throwing Festival, with events like the beloved mame maki (bean-throwing) ceremonies to cast out demons and invite in happiness.

Chanting 'Out with evil! In With Good Fortune!'

As part of this enduring custom, hundreds of years old, people throw roasted soybeans, or fuku mame (fortune beans), while shouting Oni-wa-soto (Out with evil demons!) and Fuku-wa-uchi (In with good fortune!). It is believed that people can be healthy and happy if they pick up and eat fuku mame in a number equal to their age. Japanese children especially love this tradition for its bright colors and make-believe evil demons in farcical costumes.

"The beans represent vitality and are thought to symbolically purify the home by driving away evil spirits that bring misfortune and bad health," according to the Japanese lifestyle website Savvy.

Celebrating Setsubun at Shrines and Temples

Bean-throwing ceremonies are held at many temples and shrines around the country, where people can also simply pick up beans to receive good fortune. At major temples and shrines, Japanese celebrities, such as sumo wrestlers, often act as the designated bean thrower for a crowd, much to the delight of children. If you want to avoid crowds, go to a neighborhood shrine or temple; it might be fun to join other people who rush to catch the beans. 

Celebrating Setsubun at Home

More and more, families celebrate at home by throwing fortune beans out their front door or at a family member wearing an oni (demon) mast, while chanting their wish for "evil out; good fortune in." Savvy says this practice is so widespread that families can pick up a demon's mask and roasted soybeans at their local convenience store.

You could also celebrate Setsubun by eating fortune sushi rolls called eho-maki, or you could face in your lucky direction to invite good fortune for the coming year, according to the principles of ying-yang.