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Setsubun Traditions (Bean-Throwing Festival in Japan)

Ogre masks and peanuts for Setsubun (Bean-Throwing Festival) in Japan

February 3rd is Setsubun in Japan.

Setsubun is a traditional event that marks the beginning of spring according to the old Japanese lunar calendar.

One of the customs of Setsubun is to toss roasted beans around your home to ward off evil and to welcome good fortune in the months ahead. The beans are usually roasted soybeans, or in some cases, peanuts in the shell.

It is common to say something like “Out with the bad! In with the good!” while throwing a handful of roasted beans around doors, windows, entranceways, and rooms.

Why beans? Setsubun is a very old tradition, going back hundreds and hundreds of years. And the customs have changed over the course of time.

There are different theories about the origin of using beans for Setsubun. Grains and beans are often thought to symbolize vitality (as seeds sprout into life). In addition, soybeans may have been recognized as having health benefits and medicinal properties that could be used to fight illness. This may have been extended to the belief that they could help ward off evil and offer protection from harm.

Another story involves a play on words in Japanese. A combination of the word for “evil” (ma) and “getting rid of” (messuru) sound like the word for beans (mame).

Roasted beans are now used in Setsubun as a symbol of throwing out the bad and welcoming in the good.

In some cases, Setsubun activities have taken on a somewhat playful aspect. In some families, someone will wear an ogre mask and family members will toss the roasted soybeans or peanuts at the “ogre”  (oni in Japanese) to symbolize scaring away evil.

Many families later will eat the roasted beans. There is also a tradition that states that people should eat one bean for each year of your life, plus one more for good health and good fortune in the upcoming year. So for example if you are 40 years old, that means 41 beans…

Ogre masks and peanuts for Setsubun
Ogre masks and peanuts for Setsubun
Posted in Life