Setsubun 2012

This is a retro post that I did on Setsubun. Before I put the video in it’s proper place, I’ll let everyone see it first. ENJOY :)

It’s that time again. It’s time for the bright red and bright blue oni (demons) to rear their evil heads only to be relentlessly attacked with roasted beans! If you’re not familiar with this custom, it’s Setsubun!

Setsubun is a one Japan’s famous traditions that happens every February. I’ve only really participated in it one time while working at Aeon. My manager had us do that part of the ceremony that’s most common among adults. You take dried, roasted beans known as fukumame (副豆) and you throw them out of the window while saying the magic words: Fuku wa uchi, oni wa soto (ふくはうちおにはそと). This literally means “Good luck in, an demons out.” After that you are supposed to eat your age in fukumame. They don’t taste all that great, but you want to have good luck, don’t cha?

If you ever watch Japanese news during Setsubun, one thing you may see, are classrooms of crying, young children. In many preschool classrooms, one teacher or staff member will dress up as a demon, and the kids are supposed to throw beans at the demon in order to stop it. Usually the kids just stand with a handful of fukumame…crying their little hearts out. Poor kids. But that is a common Japanese custom. I really wonder if any these kids end up with complexes when they get older. There are adults I know who don’t like clowns because of a bad childhood experience. So I’m sure something similar must happen here. Somebody thought it would be a good idea to run up on the kids in a frightening costume and that all would be well, but I’m sure that somewhere in Japan, there is some adult man or some adult woman that wakes up in cold sweats from their childhood exposure to the “Setsubun Oni.”

To me, Setsubun is a Japanese tradition that doubles up on the good luck early in the new year. Most Japanese are fresh off of Hatsumode (初詣) (the first prayer of the new year) and Setsubun happens almost one month later.

I asked a couple of teachers what the meaning of Setsubun was. The throwing of the beans, and saying fuku wa uchi, oni wa soto made perfect sense so I didn’t really ask. I was curious as to why people throw beans at demons on Setsubun and I got two pretty cool, but similar answers. I could pretty much infer the meaning, but doing this symbolizes getting rid of your personal demons. If you have animosity towards another person, if you have demons of doubt, if there’s something negative inside of you, Setsubun is the day you rid yourself of those demons. I think the interpretation varies from person to person, but those were the ideas I heard from my teachers.

There was one tradition that no one seemed to have a clear explanation for, though, and that was the eating your age in fuku mame. People celebrate birthdays here, so I don’t think it’s the same kind of thing. Maybe there was some commercial intent behind it. Perhaps there was some group of Japanese marketing execs that sat down in a room and said “How can we sell more of these blasted, bland beans!!” One staff member was probably all like “Ooooh I know! We can tell people to eat their age in beans, and they’ll have good luck year round! We’ll call it Setsubun!” ‘

If you know the real reason behind it, I’d love to hear it! Or if you have any interesting theories about the reason why, I’d love to hear it.

Happy Setsubun Everybody!!


Donald Ash

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  • Haha ^_^ That’s a nice tradition I think! We all have our little things we do for good luck on a smaller scale. One of mine is using salt on all wendowsils and doorways–supposed to keep bad spirits out if you do so! I don’t remember where I picked up the idea but my family does it too. We do it at the beginning of every season.

    I was curious, Donald-kun, what are some of the smaller good luck/get rid of bad luck myths or traditions for day to day stuff? Like tossing salt over your shoulder if you knock it over here (or if you break a mirror you have 7 days of bad luck).

  • ふくはうちおにはそと! A great festival and the local children in my neighbourhood in Japan will often wear masks representing these bad luck demons.

  • Walt

    Interesting custom, and one I’d never heard before. Sounds like fun. I guess the eating of beans is healthier than all the candy we eat on Halloween.

  • Melissa

    I can totally see some marketing execs coming up with the eat your age in beans thing. Just like they have white day!

  • Lok yuen

    Maybe thats why people live to be so old in Japan. :D Jk! Lol. Reminds me of how my parents do the ol’ Asian tradition thing for good luck every year.

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