Celebrate setsubun, the arrival of spring in Japan on February 3! While everyone is throwing white bean seeds and shouting“Oni wa soto, Fuku wa Uchi” ! (Demon outside, happiness inside), you can enjoy traditional Japanese dishes. Let’s discover them in this article.
How does the Setsubun festival take place?
Setsubun is a traditional Japanese festival which takes place on February 3rd according to the lunar calendar and which marks the last day before spring and the first day of spring.
“Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!“(鬼は外！福は内) means “Out with the demons! Inside the happiness!”. It is a tradition to attract happiness in Japanese homes, drive away evil spirits and scare away misfortunes for the coming year
A member of the family can also dress up as a demon (Oni). The children of the house throw roasted white beans at him shouting “Out with the demons!” to scare them away and bring good luck to the house for the next 12 months. This ritual is called “mame maki 豆撒き“. Incidentally, this festival is also called the “bean tossing festival”.
In some Japanese homes, white beans are also dropped in front of the front door, on the windows so that demons cannot enter.
At the end of the throwing, each person collects and eats the number of white beans that correspond to his age and one more for good luck.
In Japan, this tradition takes place in houses but also in temples, shrines and kindergartens. You can find in this period roasted white beans, masks and products of demons or Otafuku in Japanese combini and supermarkets.
Many booths of yatai will also be present with typical Japanese dishes in temples and shrines. Sometimes, there will be traditional dances and songs, tasting of sweet sake called “amazake”… This is a festival not to be missed! You will find them in all big cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Hakone, Nara…
What do we eat during Setsubun festival?
Depending on the region, Japanese food is different for the setsubun festival, here we will introduce you the most famous ones.
Originally from Kansai, ehomaki is a long sushi rolled and very thick. It is customary to eat it in one go, without saying a single word so that your wishes come true. It is made of 7 ingredients corresponding to the 7 gods of luck. Although the 7 ingredients are not fixed, here are the most used in Japan:
- Kanpyo, dried strips of gourd
- Omelette with dashi, “tamagoyaki“
- Japanese conger called “anago 穴子”
- Sakura denbu, white fish flake
- Shiitake mushroom boiled
- Perilla shiso leaf
Salmon, salmon roe, squid, shrimp, tuna etc. are sometimes sold in stores as “Seafood Ehomaki“. The number of ingredient types is not limited to 7, but can be reduced to 2 or 5 types, or increased to 11 types, 12 types, 15 types… What is also surprising is that depending on the year, ehomaki must be eaten standing up and in a very specific direction. Japanese people manage to eat it quite quickly!
You can also see our ehomaki recipe to celebrate Setsubun at home like in Japan!
Setsubun soba 節分蕎麦
The day before new year in Japan on December 31, it is customary to eat “Toshikoshi Soba” but due to the reform of the Meiji calendar, this dish has been gradually consumed also for Setsubun. In some regions, the custom of eating soba setsubun day is still preserved, and it has come to be distinguished by calling it “Setsubun Soba“.
Setsubun iwashi 節分いわし
In western Japan, there is a custom of eating ” Setsubun Iwashi “, which is salt-grilled sardines
Some people eat them in soup or in pellets.
It is said that demons hate the fishy smell of Iwashi and the painful thorns of holly. Therefore, it is customary to adorn the front door with a fish head decoration and a holly tree so that they will not enter
Kirizasho is a local confectionery whose main ingredients are sugar, Joshinko rice flour and Japanese pepper. It is a seasonal product, so enjoy it. It is a confection considered to be a good luck charm.
Fukubiki Senbei 福引煎餅
Fukubiki Senbei is a rice cookie that protects you from evil and gives you good fortune which is in the center of the cookie. It is a rice cookie flavored with slightly sweet peanuts made of eggs, flour and hollow triangular shape. It looks solid at first glance, but in reality it is crisp and light.
Konjac is a “food that cleanses the inside of the body”, and some regions have a custom of eating it at the turn of the new year. Eating konjac for setsubun helps to get rid of bad things in your body.
Kenchinjiru Soup けんちん汁
Kenchinjiru soup is considered as auspicious food. There are areas where you eat kenchinjiru for Setsubun. This dish is said to have been invented by a Buddhist priest of Kenchoji temple in Kamakura city, Kanagawa prefecture
Areas in the Kansai region whereazuki foods such as zenzai , steamed buns (manju) and red rice are distributed to neighbors and close friends so that evil spirits do not spread. It is also an opportunity to renew ties with loved ones. It is said that the red color of azuki beans is the color of the sun which eliminates evil spirits and brings good fortune
Yakuyoke manju 厄除け饅頭
Yakuyoke manju are small prayer buns to ward off evil, usually filled with anko, red bean paste azuki.
Setsubun is an important day in Japan, just like the New Year. Nowadays, there is a strong image that children like to “sow beans”, but in reality, it is an important day to get rid of the troubles of the year and bring good fortune. The arrival of spring also heralds in Japan, the doll festival “hina matsuri” the plum blossom festival or the hanami (cherry blossom festival). No wonder it is a popular time for tourists!