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Get ready to shake off the winter blues and embrace the arrival of spring with the joyous Setsubun festival in Japan! Celebrated annually on February 3rd, Setsubun is a time for families to come together, have fun and ward off evil spirits with the throw of roasted soybeans. Whether you're a seasoned festival-goer or a newcomer to Setsubun, this is one event you don't want to miss!

What exactly is Setsubun?

Setsubun (節分) is a traditional Japanese festival that marks the transition from winter to spring. It translates to “seasonal division”.  The festival is celebrated with various customs and rituals, including the throwing of roasted soybeans outside and inside homes. Additionally, families often eat special Ehomaki sushi rolls facing the year's lucky direction. 

The main event is the mamemaki, where participants, often led by a celebrity or local shrine priest, throw roasted soybeans while shouting "Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi" (Demons out, happiness in). Setsubun is a beloved festival that brings people from all walks of life together to embrace the changing of seasons and to start the new year with hope and positivity. Since Setsubun isn’t a public holiday, the festival is especially popular among elementary school and kindergarten children.

Where does the tradition come from?

The festival's roots can be traced back to the ancient custom of purifying homes and shrines by scattering beans, a practice that was believed to bring good luck and drive away evil spirits. Over time, the tradition evolved to include the throwing of roasted soybeans, which became central to the Setsubun celebration. 

In the Edo period (1603-1868), Setsubun became a popular event, with people celebrating it with feasts and parties. During this time, the custom of mamemaki, or bean-throwing, became a common practice, and the festival became an opportunity for people to come together, eat, drink and have fun. Today, Setsubun is still celebrated across Japan, and its customs and traditions continue to be cherished and passed down from generation to generation.

What the heck is so special about soybeans?

In Japanese mythology, beans are considered symbols of good fortune. Among all beans, soybeans hold a special place in the Shinto tradition, being second only to rice in popularity. With their larger size and more powerful appearance, soybeans became a popular choice in the Setsubun festival as a way to repel evil spirits.

The throwing and eating of soybeans during Setsubun festival in Japan is a traditional custom with spiritual roots. The act of eating soybeans is seen as a way to bring good luck and health, with each bean representing a wish for a prosperous and healthy year. This custom is a way for Japanese families to come together, celebrate the changing of seasons, and start the new year with hope and positivity.

Where can you celebrate it?

Here are the biggest Setsubun celebrations in Tokyo:

With its vibrant energy, traditional rituals, and lively atmosphere, Setsubun is a must-experience event for anyone looking to immerse themselves in Japanese culture. So grab your friends and family, put on your best festival gear, and get ready to make some noise as you chase away the demons and welcome in good luck for the new year.

For more info about Setsubun, check out our video on our Instagram page @zentern.internships!