Shelley Pauls / Kevin Phillips

Setsubun: Throwing soybeans at demons?

Today is Setsubun (節分), a festive occasion in Japan during early Spring that takes place between the 2nd and 4th of February.

The primary tradition associated with Setsubun is throwing beans, known as mamemaki (豆撒き), to ward off oni (鬼), a kind of Japanese demon. The ritual involves either scattering soybeans outside the home, or chucking them at a family member wearing an oni mask. This cleansing ritual happens while family members shout:


Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! (鬼は外! 福は内!)

– Demons, stay outside! Fortune, come inside!


As you might guess from the wording, this tradition is meant to purify the home and bring good luck. Afterwards, it’s a custom to eat some soybeans, one for each of the years of your life.

While it’s primarily a tradition observed at home, families also visit shrines or temples where it is performed during festivals. These festivals vary across the country. Dependent on the region, you may encounter celebrities, sumo wrestlers, priests and even dancing geisha. Sometimes the soybeans are replaced with sweets, cash in envelopes and other prizes.

There are specific regional traditions too. In Kanto, people eat makizushi (巻き寿司), sushi rolled up in seaweed. But instead of cutting it into slices, they eat the whole thing.  If they’re feeling extra festive, they remain silent until they’ve finished eating, and face a lucky direction (based on the zodiac). This type of sushi is therefore called ehōmaki (恵方巻), or ‘lucky direction roll’.


Louis Hansel


Other traditions include using sardine head talismans, and even drinking ginger-spiced sake called shōgazake (生姜酒).



A Japan-enthusiast from the UK, with a particular interest in history and the language, as well as cycling, writing and rock climbing.