Setsubun, or “That Bean-Throwing Festival,” celebrates the beginning of spring in Japan. Celebrated yearly on February 3 as part of the Spring Festival, its association with the Lunar New Year makes this festival a sort of New Year’s Eve. This association is accompanied by a special ritual to cleanse away the evil of the previous year and drive away evil spirits for the year to come. This special ritual is called mamemaki; literally “bean throwing.”
The custom of Mamemaki is performed by the toshiotoko of the household, a male who was born on the corresponding year of the Chinese zodiac, or the male head of household. Roasted soybeans are thrown either out the door or at a member of the family wearing an Oni (demon) mask, while the people say “Demons out! Luck in!” (Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!?) and slam the door. This is no longer common practice in households anymore, but many people will attend a shrine or temple’s spring festival instead, where a similar ceremony is performed.
The beans symbolically purify the home by driving away the evil spirits that bring misfortune and bad health. It is also customary to eat roasted soybeans, one for each year of one’s life, and in some areas, one for each year of one’s life plus one more for bringing good luck for the year to come.
At Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines all over the country, there are celebrations for Setsubun. Priests and guests will throw roasted soybeans (some wrapped in gold or silver foil), small envelopes with money, sweets, candies, and other prizes. In some bigger shrines, celebrities and sumo wrestlers will be invited; these events are televised nationally.
The most famous and exciting Sestsubun Festival in Nagoya takes place at Osu Kannon Temple, on February 3rd. A large parade is held, where a ship meant to bring good fortune departs from Sakae and makes its way to Osu Kannon at around 13:18. The highlight of this festival is seeing the ships pulled through the Osu Shopping Arcade. Very interesting festival, and well worth the free admission!
This festival is less well known but is reportedly pretty impressive. It takes place from February 3.