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‘Setsubun’ festival: Everything you need to know

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By Chinami Takeichi

Setsubun, the Japanese festival involving the unique rituals of throwing dried soy beans at people wearing oni (demon) masks and eating a fat sushi roll facing a certain direction, is approaching. Setsubun literally means “division of seasons”, and the special day signifies the start of spring. 

Setsubun this year is on Sunday, Feb 3. Many people take part in a bean throwing tradition believed to ward off evil and bring good luck. 

Annual events will take place at Naritasan Shinshoji Temple and Zojoji Temple, where they invite special celebrity guests to throw out soybeans and peanuts at visitors. The soybeans represent good luck for the coming season and thousands of visitors vie to capture as much fortune as they can. This year, Naritasan Shinshoji invited the cast of the popular TV show “Idaten”, such as Sadao Abe, as well as sumo wrestlers and kabuki actor Ebizo Ichikawa. 

People can also celebrate setsubun at home with soy beans bought at the local grocery store or convenience store. Sometimes, a family member, usually the father, dresses up as a red oni and children throw beans at him, yelling Oni wa soto (demons out), Fuku wa uchi (good fortune in). Many families also throw beans outside their front door. 

Another way to bring about good luck is to eat a specific number of beans: your age plus one. 

There is also a special sushi roll called ehomaki that is to be eaten in silence facing a certain direction. The lucky direction this year is “east-northeast”. 

Setsubun offers a variety of rituals that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. It is easy to get carried away amid all the fun, so certain precautions need to be taken. The Consumer Affairs Agency and the National Center for Child Health and Development urge parents each year to be careful about letting young children swallow the soybeans as there have been a number of choking incidents in recent years. 

Below is a list of some setsubun events around Tokyo:

Naritasan Setsubun Festival

A special outdoor bean-throwing event that invites actors, sumo wrestlers, and enka singers to throw a total of 860 kg of beans will take place three times at 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Date: Feb 3 

Location: Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, 10-minute walk from JR Narita Station

Zojoji Temple Setsubun

Not only can visitors see celebrities, but there will also be preschoolers wearing ceremonial samurai attire that fights off oni on stage. The bean-throwing ceremony starts at 12:20 p.m. 

Date: Feb 3 

Location: Zojoji Temple; 10-minute walk from JR Hamamatsucho Station, 5-minute walk from Daimon Station

Asakusa Setsubun Festival

The bean-throwing event is set to happen between 2:30 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. Asakusa Sensoji Temple does not do the common chant, Oni wa soto, as they believe there are no demons in the presence of the great Kannon goddess. They instead use the chant, Senshu banzei, fuku wa uchi! (good fortune for eternity).

Date: Feb 3 

Location: Sensoji Temple, 5-minute walk from Asakusa Station

Kanda Shrine Setsubun

The bean-throwing event starts from 2 p.m. and there is also a special section where an arrow is shot in the direction of the “demon’s gate”’ to ward off evil spirits. 

Date: Feb 3 

Location: Kanda Myojin Shrine, 5-minute walk from Ochanomizu Station

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