Setsebun meaning seasonal division is celebrated in Japan on the day before each season begins. However, the term actually refers to the Setsebun in spring, it is popularly called Risshun or sometimes Rissun (the bean throwing festival), and occurs yearly on February 3. Though it is not a national holiday in Japan, many people celebrate it as a ritual for chasing away the evil spirits.

Setsubun marks the Lunar New Year in the Japanese lunar calendar, so it is also considered as (indeed thought so earlier) a sort of New Year’s Eve. Rishun in Japan, is celebrated as the ritual of cleansing away all the disease-bringing evil spirits and demons of the previous year. This special ceremony is called Mamemaki, which involves bean throwing at the evil.

What happens in Mamemaki (bean throwing ritual)?

You would find the celebrations of Setsebun very exciting and full of fun and frolic. Well this festival is celebrated in different ways in different corners of Japan. You would find the kids drawing demon mask on a piece of paper and coloring it.

Then someone is selected to put on the mask, as the other members in the family throw pan-heated soybeans (known as irimame) at that person wearing the mask the Oni (demon or ogre). While throwing the beans the people shout “Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi” if you translate it that means, “Demons out, Happiness (Fortune) in.” The beans symbolize the sowing of seeds and the impregnation of new life on Earth.

In most of the houses you will see the bean throwing being performed by the male who was born on the corresponding animal year on the Chinese zodiac, or head of the household (usually the father). First they pray at the family shrine and then toss the beans out into the yard of the house.

Customs of Setsubun or Rishun

In most of the households a widely observed custom in Setsubun is to eat as many beans as your age and an extra bean for the coming year for good luck, health, and prosperity. It becomes more important if you are a man aged 25 or 42, or a woman aged 19 or 33, since these ages are usually considered unlucky.

Whereas in rural areas, you would find rather a strange custom, which involves first eating grilled sardines and then sticking their heads on sticks outside the front door. This is said to vanquish any demon trying to enter the house.

Celebrations on Setsebun in temple and Shinto shrines

In the Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, celebrations of Setsubun are a bit different. You can see the priests and invited guests throwing roasted soyabeans (some of them covered with silver or gold foil), small envelopes with candies, money, sweets and other prizes for the people.

In some of the bigger Shinto shrine precincts, you may even see the pop singers, Movie stars, geisha, and sumo wrestlers attending the ceremonies, and participating in the proceedings, which are televised nationally. With a large passionate crowd the Setsebun eventually turns wild, and good luck follows their fate.