Winter into Spring: Setsubun

Setsubun, oni, New York, spring

In East Wind Melts the Ice, Liza Dalby writes, “A season has a natural life span of three months, throughout which it develops from infancy through youth to maturity . . . Spring begins in February, appropriately enough, in its infancy.”

February 3 is known as Setsubun in Japan, the day that marks the birth of this new season. Setsubun literally means “season division,” and the timing is based on the Chinese Lunar calendar.

It’s the perfect time for the Japanese to drive out evil spirits, known as oni, by throwing roasted soybeans (fukumame) and yelling “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Devils out! Happiness in!”)

After the soybeans are dispersed, it’s customary to count out the number of beans that corresponds to your age – called toshinokazu – and eat them for good luck and good health throughout the year.

Another custom of Setsubun is to hang the heads of sardines, or iwashi, on garland outside the home.

This YouTube video was taken at a temple in Tokyo.

Even famous Japanese cats get in on the act. Here’s Nyran, the cat mascot of the Jalan, a travel agency.

Nyaran, Setsubun, Jalan, Japanese traditions, NYC, Japanese culture, oni, cat

So throw some roasted soybeans and hang some sardines to celebrate the start of spring!