The beauty of the old Japanese seasonal celebrations is that they remind us of the constancy of the seasons. Has your winter been long and cold? Take courage—Setsubun means that spring is coming!
When Is Setsubun 2021?
You probably already know about Setsubun 節分, the “seasonal divide.” It’s the day before Risshun 立春, or the official beginning of spring according to the old Japanese lunar calendar. Normally, Risshun falls on February 4,making Setsubun February 3. The date is carefully determined by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan 国立天文台. Did you know, however, that this year, Risshun falls on February 3, meaning Setsubun comes a day early on February 2, 2021? This is for the same reason that we have leap years every four years—in other words, our use of the 365-day solar calendar.
Did You Know? We are actually adding a little too much time back into the calendar (about 4 hours and 45 minutes too much, over the course of 400 years, that is). In order to create a balance, we will have to forego Leap Day three times every 400 years.
If you grew up in Japan or in a Japanese family abroad, you might have celebrated Setsubun by doing “mame maki” 豆まき, or bean scattering. Other traditions include eating “fuku mame” 福豆, lucky beans, and silently munching on “eho-maki” 恵方巻, lucky-direction roll. All three of these traditions have to do with bringing good fortune or good health into one’s home.
There are a few variations on mame maki. One variation is to simply throw soybeans out of the house while shouting, “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!” 鬼は外、福は内 meaning something like, “Goodbye and see you never, bad luck! Come in, and be our guest, good luck!” Oni 鬼 means ogre, and the second variation on mame maki is for the whole family to throw beans at the one member wearing an ogre mask. The third variation is basically a money catch. Kids (and adults) gather at local shrines to be pelted with soybeans and money (one, five, ten, or fifty-yen coins).
Another beanie tradition is to eat “fuku mame” 福豆, or roasted soybeans. Typically, you eat the number of beans that correspond to your age while praying for a happy and healthy life. Fuku mame usually come in “sake-masu” 酒升, the square, wooden sake cup that is still used as a unit of measure.
Tip! For obaachan and ojiichan, eating the number of soybeans corresponding to their age might end in a huge stomachache, so instead, they can drink “fuku cha” 福茶. This is made by boiling roasted soybeans in water, adding plum or kelp, and enjoying it as a smoky-flavored tea.
Ehomaki is a kind of “futomaki” 太巻き, or thick sushi roll filled with fortune-bearing ingredients—what those ingredients are doesn’t matter so much as the number: 7, for the seven gods of fortune 七福神. Ehomaki is meant to be eaten in silence without pausing while facing in the lucky direction (this year, “nan-nan-tou” 南南東, or south-southeast, the point between south and southeast). If your ehomaki is particularly thick or long, you will have extra time to reflect on your Setsubun wish!
The tradition of ehomaki developed between the Edo (1603-1868) and Meiji Periods (1868-1912) in Osaka. Geiko 芸子 were the first to eat the sushi rolls (originally called “maru kaburi zushi” 丸かぶり寿司 or “in-one-mouthful-sushi”) as they prayed for their business to thrive. Maru kaburi zushi spread nationwide thanks to a convenience store campaign in 1989, which renamed it ehomaki.
That’s it! Which variation of mame maki do you like best? What ingredients did you use for your ehomaki, and were you able to locate south southeast? Let us know in the comments below!