Monthly Archives: February 2009

On your mark, get set…it’s time to throw beans at the devil

setsubun oni poster This year setsubun is February 3rd. Considered the “turning point” between winter and spring, setsubun literally translates as “seasonal division”. Soon Kyoto will be enjoying plum blossoms as a first early sign of spring. But just in case some mischief-making oni, like the one shown on that poster above, tries to sneak through the crack between the seasons and turn your luck all topsy-turvy throughout the rest of the year, get ready to pelt him with a fist full of dried soybeans while chanting:

        “Oni wa Soto; Fuku wa Uchi!”
        “Demons out; Good luck in!”

setsubun makisushiAfterward it’s traditional to feast on makisushi like those shown at left and all the sushi shops around the country do a brisk business during this holiday. For this holiday, giant sushi rolls stuffed with a wide variety of egg, eel, cucumber, fish roe, and other treats are rolled in a layer of vinegared rice and seaweed. And at the end of the night be sure to place an image of a treasure-ship beneath your pillow to ensure dreams of good fortune in the coming year.

Japanese oni image
In Shinto mythology, oni comprise a wide range of ambivalent but powerful spirits, capable of behaving in unexpected ways — at times, demonic, at other times mischievous, and still others benevolent. The four-eyed demon named Hôsô is actually considered a good guy, who will assist mere mortals by helping to chase evil demons away. Interestingly, his image is painted on the saké cask at right. So if throwing beans doesn’t get rid of your demons, there is presumably an alternate path.