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Setsubun: The Demons' Festival

Japan is, with no doubt, a country built, raised and enriched by years and years of amazing and unique traditions. During all the year you can find festivals and events for every month, making the experience of living in Japan certainly exceptional and one of a kind. February is not an exception, and it can be lived one of the funniest traditions: Setsubun, the Demons' festival.

With the arrival of the New Year, it is also the time for new purposes and wishes, as well as for objectives and goals for the New Year to be settled and start the way to accomplish them. In Japan, it is also one of the moments to call for the luck and shoo away the bad things, evils and sad feelings. That is mainly the spirit of the Setsubun Festival (“setsubun”, 節分) and ceremony.


This festival takes place on February 3rd and it is considered to be one of the welcoming ceremonies for spring after the cold months of sleepy winter. In fact, it settled on that day because it is the day before the beginning of spring. Literally, the name means “seasonal division” referring to the “Spring Setsubun”, properly known as “risshun” (立春), celebrated annually as part of the complete Spring Festival (“haru matsuri”, 春祭). It is directly related to the Lunar New Year (“shôgatsu” 正月, from December 31st to January 4th). which was whilom thought of as a New Year's Eve somehow. Because of that, it was a moment traditional for special spiritual rituals to cleanse away bad spirits and all the evil of the former year, in order to drive away any evil spirits for a good entrance in the year to come. Part of this annual cleaning is done through the Setsubun ceremony. Originally introduced in Japan in the 8th century from a Chinese custom, this ritual is called also “bean scattering” (“mamemaki”, 豆撒き), and that is why the festival is also known as “Bean-Throwing Festival” or “Bean-Throwing Ceremony”.


The custom dates back to the Muromachi period (going from 1336 to 1573 approximately). According to the tradition, roasted soy beans known as fortune beans (“fuku mame”, 福豆) should be thrown either out the door of the family's home or at a family member wearing a mask of a demon or Japanese ogre (“oni”, 鬼).


While doing so, people shout “Demons out, luck in!” (“Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!”, 鬼は外!福は内!). Finally, they slam the door to seal the effects of the ritual.

The beans are considered to symbolically purify the house by driving away any evil spirits that bring bad luck, misfortune and health problems to the home. After that, it is customary to eat roasted soy beans as part of the ceremony to bring luck in. This part of the tradition changes depending on the region of Japan. In some areas people should eat one bean for each year of life. In contrast, in other areas it is custom to eat one for each year of one's life plus one additional for bringing good luck for the year to come.


Although the tradition is mainly practised in households, many people attend to shrines or temples where this Spring Festival is also performed.


So, do not forget to give it a try this year to dispel bad luck and evil spirits, and bring fortune and luck to your new life. And remember, do not forget to shout out loud: “Demons out, luck in!”.

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