Setsubun at Ryotei Kawabun, Nagoya’s Most Traditional Restaurant

ByBert Wishart
Jan 29, 2021

Setsubun at Ryotei Kawabun, Nagoya’s Most Traditional Restaurant

One of the most important dates in Japan’s lunar calendar, every February 3, Setsubun marks the beginning of Spring. It is a time of ‘out with the old and in with the new .’ This metaphorical idea’s literal representation is someone dressing up as an ‘oni’ [demon] and being chased out of the house under threat of being pelted by soybeans. Once the evil is gone, allowing good luck to enter the home, everyone gets stuck into some ‘eho-maki’ [uncut cylindrical sushi rolls].

But, while these are the best known Setsubun customs, there are numerous other centuries-old traditions, particularly coming from Kyoto, Japan’s historical capital of culture. These include elaborate ‘ghost’ hairstyles, as well as lots of dressing up, with older women donning fineries above their station, and men clothing themselves in female attire and women wearing men’s garments (this was a time when rigid class and gender rules were fastidiously adhered to). It was believed that visiting shrines and temples when dressed in this way could eradicate one’s troubles, and it frequently led to an atmosphere akin to The Carnival of Venice or modern day Hallowe’en.

Replicating this tradition, Ryotei Kawabun, one of Nagoya’s oldest (and fanciest) restaurants holds an annual event, the Kawabun Setsabun Festival, with a fun and slightly ribald kabuki-esque performance and ‘setsubun ghost hairstyling’. For your 10,000 JPY, you get lunch, one drink, a souvenir and the performance. It may sound quite pricey, but in fairness the food at Kawabun is always phenomenal.

The festival usually goes on for one week, but due to coronavirus restrictions in 2021 it will be held only on February 2 and 3. For those of you concerned about close contact with others, groups of more than four may request private tables, acrylic screens are put in place to minimise proximity, and you may enjoy your lunch in their semi-outdoor area. Should you choose the latter, don’t forget to wrap up warm.

Ryotei Kawabun’s Setsubun Details

Where: 2-13-4 Marunouchi Naka-ku (map)
Event page:
Tel: 052-222-0873

About Ryotei Kawabun

For some 400 years – since around the same time as Nagoya Castle was first built – Kawabun has been a watchword for culinary excellence. Beginning life as an upmarket fishmonger, it was recognized and patronized by the connoisseurs amongst the ruling Tokugawa Owari clan, and the family-run establishment branched out into the restaurant industry.

Today, despite being modified down the centuries, it is a living monument to the elegance and refinement of that age – as well as that of the Meiji era, to which many of the more modernized structures pay homage. It is considered one of the most exquisite examples of classic Japan in Nagoya.

Images via

About the author

Bert Wishart editor

Novelist, copywriter and graduate from the most prestigious university in Sunderland, Bert whiles away his precious time on this Earth by writing about popular culture, travel, food and pretty much anything else that is likely to win him the Pulitzer he desperately craves.