Setsubun: Japan’s Bean-Throwing Tradition

Demons Out, Fortune In!

By The Savvy Team
February 2, 2018
Japanese Culture, Lifestyle

Mark the beginning of spring by scaring away all evil around you — with beans.

Setsubun no Hi, celebrated annually on February 2, 3 or 4th, is a traditional event marking the official beginning of spring, according to the Japanese lunar calendar. Though not a national holiday, Setsubun is widely celebrated across Japan and is one of the favorite traditions of all Japanese children. It’s a day full of bean-throwing, bean-eating and efforts to scare evil away to welcome good fortune.

This year, Setsubun falls on Saturday, February 3rd and there are plenty of events around the city to celebrate the proper way. Enjoy!

© Photo by Jordi Olaria Jané

When did Setsubun begin?

The tradition of Setsubun dates back centuries, but the bean throwing tradition first emerged in the Muromachi period (1337 – 1573). The beans represent vitality and are thought to symbolically purify the home by driving away evil spirits that bring misfortune and bad health. As Japanese people like to play with words, there is also a secret meaning to bean throwing: the pronunciation of the word beans (mame, 豆) is similar to the word for demon eyes (魔目); throwing beans, therefore, has a similar sound to destroying demons (mametsu, 魔滅).

How is Setsubun celebrated?

Today Setsubun is celebrated by members of a household throwing roasted soybeans out their front door, or at a family member dressed up as an oni (demon), while chanting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! (Demons out! Good fortune in!). You can also attend public Setsubun celebrations at temples across Tokyo and the rest of Japan, where TV personalities, athletes, and other celebrities are designated as bean-throwers.

The beans represent vitality, and are thought to symbolically purify the home by driving away evil spirits that bring misfortune and bad health.

If you and your family would like to embrace the Setsubun tradition as true locals, it’s as easy as going by your local convenience store, grabbing an oni demon mask and a pack of roasted soybeans to get started. In addition to throwing the beans, eating the same number of beans as your age plus one is said to ensure good health.

Other traditions include eating eho-maki, a special Setsubun sushi roll, which can be either made at home or bought at your local Seven-Eleven. The tradition goes that one should make a wish in the evening of Setsubun, turn to the lucky direction for the year and eat the whole roll in complete silence for good luck. This year, the lucky direction is “south south-southeast, and a little bit to the right.”

Eating the same number of beans as your age plus one is said to ensure good health.

Major Setsubun Events Around Tokyo 

For those who haven’t bean to a real Setsubun event yet, below are some of the most popular ceremonies in and around Tokyo.

Setsubun Festival At Zojoji Temple

Joined by celebrities, politicians and sumo wrestlers, the annual bean-throwing festival at Zojoji Temple is one of the largest such events in Tokyo. Thousands of people join this event and the battle for bean catch is fierce, so go well armed.

Date: Saturday, February 3, 2018
Time: From 12 p.m.
Location: Zojoji Temple, 4-7-35 Shibakoen, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Naritasan Setsubun Festival

Naritasan Temple attracts around 40 thousand visitors every year particularly for this festival, where a total of 860 kg of beans (and 400 kg of peanuts) are thrown by celebrities, athletes and Kabuki actors. This year, sumo wrestlers including Yokozuna Kisenosato and actors from NHK’s morning drama Segoton, including Eita and Keiko Kitagawa, will be participating.

Date: Saturday, February 3, 2018
Time: 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 4 p.m.
Location: Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, 1 Narita, Narita-shi, Chiba Prefecture

Ikegami Honmonji Temple Setsubun

With over 13,000 participants every year, this is one of the largest Setsubun events in the capital and with famous wrestlers attending the ceremony, the battle for the beans here is fierce — literally. This year, the event will be joined by famous faces such as wrestlers Keiji Mutoh, Takeshi Sugiura and Io Shirai, as well as actresses Akiko Yada and Iyo Matsumoto.

Date: Saturday, February 3, 2018
Time: 1 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Location: Ikegami Honmonji Temple, 1-1-1 Ikegami, Ota-ku, Tokyo

Kawasaki Daishi Setsubun

© Photo by Kawasaki Daishi Heikenji Temple

This one is the largest in Kanagawa Prefecture. Scare demons away together with other 10,000 participants and fight over for the perfect bean.

Date: Saturday, February 3, 2018
Time: 11:30 a.m., 2 p.m., 4:30 p.m.
Location: Kawasaki Daishi, 4-48 Daishimachi, Kawasaki-ku, Kawasaki-shi, Kanagawa Prefecture

Asakusa Sensoji Temple Setsubun

Asakusa likes doing things its own way, so here you’ll experience a slightly different chant than the traditional “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi.” While there are several events going on at the temple throughout the day, the biggest attraction is the bean throwing event by famous Japanese celebrities whose appearance is kept secret from the public until the actual event. Who will join the crowd this year? Find out for yourself!

Date: Saturday, February 3, 2018
Time: 2:30 p.m.-5:15 p.m.
Location: Sensoji Temple, 2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo

The video below was taken at Zojoji Temple last year. Enjoy!