Setsubun is a season changing festival held on February 2, 3 or 4, the day before “Risshun”, the first day of spring according to the Japanese lunar calendar. In 2022 it is celebrated on February 3rd.
Although not a national holiday, the Japanese have been celebrating Setsubun for centuries by performing rituals with the purpose of chasing away evil spirits at the start of spring.
In earlier times it was customary to loudly bang drums while burning dried sardines in order to deter evil spirits from entering your home. Now a common setsubun ritual is the throwing of roasted beans around one’s house. When throwing the beans, you shout “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Devils out, happiness in”) and afterwards pick up and eat the number of beans which corresponds to your age. There are many variants.
But the most widespread custom, with or without other various embellishments, is the eating eho-maki sushi rolls.
Keiko and I have had much fun over the years with Setsubun celebration rituals.* Today we simply and quietly observed Setsubun by eating eho-maki sushi rolls for dinner.
However, like most Japanese customs, we had to follow the Rules about the proper way to eat the eho-maki! The most important thing about eho-maki is the unique way in which you eat it.
• First, the eho-maki is not an ordinary sushi roll. There are Seven Gods of Fortune that symbolize wealth and happiness in Japan and this sushi roll is prepared using seven different ingredients representing these Seven Gods of Fortune. The ingredients are wrapped into a very thick roll with rice and seaweed.
• Second, you must eat it whole. Failure to finish the role risks losing your good fortune! Considering the roll is about 1-2 inches in diameter and 5-8 inches long, it is easier said than done. Washing it down with ample amounts of sake helps the process.
• Third, when eating your eho-maki, stand facing the lucky direction of the year as you wish for prosperity and good health. The lucky direction changes every year. The direction to face while eating your eho-maki in 2022 is north-north-west. And don’t look away!
• Fourth, eat in complete silence until you are done! It is believed that speaking while eating could let your luck escape.
If you have not had a Setsubun experience, give it a try. It is a great fun way to celebrate the start of spring!
*My favorite memories are of those we organized at the University of Maine. Check my blog post archives.