Setsubun Traditions and Festivals

Setsubun is February 3rd this year, and you’ve probably already seen ogre decorations in your school or ogre masks on sale at your local department store. Here’s a rundown of Setsubun traditions and events in Ishikawa.

First off, what is Setsubun? Setsubun is actually a bit of a misnomer, as the name 節分 just means “seasonal divide” and refers to the midpoint in between solstices and equinoxes as determined by the classical Chinese lunisolar calendar. There are actually four setsubun in a year: 立春 (risshun, spring setsubun, February 4th), 立夏 (rikka, summer setsubun, May 5th), 立秋 (risshuu, fall setsubun, August 7th) ,  and 立冬 (rittou, winter setsubun, November 7th).  In the classical Chinese lunisolar calendar, these dates–not the solstices and equinoxes themselves–are considered to be the beginning of the new season. Of these four, only the spring setsubun is a major festival in Japan, so the term stuck to that day.

Traditionally, Setsubun was a time to celebrate the end of the coldest period of winter and a time to drive away any lingering bad luck. The most famous Setsubun tradition is 豆撒き (mamemaki), throwing beans to cast out evil spirits and purify the home.  Some homes with children choose a family member to wear an ogre mask and throw beans at them, yelling 「福は内、鬼は外!」(fuku wa uchi, oni wa soto, good luck in, demons out!) and slamming the door behind them when they inevitably run away.

Shrines will have similar Setsubun festivities where visitors can purchase beans to throw at volunteers in ogre masks. Sardine heads and boughs of holly act as a further deterrent for bad spirits, and visitors can pick up any protection or luck charms they might have forgotten at New Year’s.

In recent years, supermarkets and convenience stores throughout Japan have picked up the Osaka tradition* of selling 恵方巻 (ehoumaki, whole sushi rolls) at Setsubun. Eating the whole roll in silence while facing the given year’s chosen direction is said to grant good luck.

Interested in seeing some Setsubun festivities but don’t have access to a household full of small Japanese children to throw beans at? Kanazawa’s Utasu Jinja has a Setsubun Festival every year.  The geisha and maiko of Kanazawa’s Higashi Chaya district perform a fan dance at this festival and then throw blessed beans to the crowd so visitors can take them home for luck.

What:  Utasu Shrine Setsubun Festival 宇多須神社節分祭り

When:  Sunday February 3, 2013.
13:00  Sake tasting
14:00  Setsubun matsuri opening ceremony
14:30  Geisha performance (fan dance)
15:00  Bean-throwing ceremony

Where:  Utasu Shrine, Higashi Chaya, Kanazawa

Getting There:  From Kanazawa station, take the Loop Bus to the Hashibachou Kouban-mae stop (橋場町交番前),  L6.  The shrine is a 5 minute (and very scenic!) walk away.

Walking directions from the bus stop:

Experience Kanazawa has more details about the festival here.

If your town has an awesome Setsubun festival, please comment with info!


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