Today, February 3rd, is Setsubun (節分) in Japan. Literally meaning the “seasonal division”, Setsubun is celebrated on the day before the beginning of Spring according to the lunar calendar.
While it has been celebrated in many ways across the centuries, nowadays the most common Setsubun ritual is ‘mamemaki‘ or bean-throwing, in which people throw roasted soy beans at their homes, and at temples and shrines throughout the country while shouting “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!” (Demons out, good luck in!). It is believed this act will ward off evil spirits for the coming year. Eating the number of soy beans corresponding to your age is considered especially lucky.
On the evening of Setsubun, it is also customary to eat eho-maki or fortune roll. This special sushi roll is made with seven fillings corresponding to the Seven Deities of Good Fortune called Shichifukujin. The ingredients used represent good health, happiness, and prosperity, while rolling them up is also said to be lucky.
Eho-maki should not be cut into bite-size pieces as this would mean cutting your good fortune. They are eaten while facing the good fortune direction of the year and making a wish. The lucky direction for 2012 is north-northwest.
Below are some pictures from part of today’s Setsubun celebrations at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo. Around 10am, local kindergarten children graced the steps of the Temple to sing and participate in mamemaki.