Oni wa Soto! Fuku wa Uchi! Literally translated: Out with the devil and in with good luck! This is the rallying cry for families around the country today as they usher in the start of Spring, and a new year, according to the ancient lunar calendar. This festival, called Setsubun (節分), which means a division of the seasons, is an annual tradition and the reason you may have started seeing an abundance of dried soybeans and scary devil masks populating the local grocery stores in the weeks since the New Year celebrations wrapped up.
Chasing Away Bad Fortune
Avoiding bad fortune and ushering in good luck is the central theme of this annual rite. In more ancient times, this usually meant using things that were smelly or noisy - like burning fish heads (yuck!) or beating drums to keep away the bad luck. Even still today, some people will stick a spiny holly branch in a dried sardine and leave it in their entryway to ward off evil spirits.
But in today's celebration, the real fun is centered around throwing the ubiquitous dried soybeans at someone dressed up as a devil while repeating the above mantra. The beans are meant to drive away the devil but have extra meaning for good health! If you pick up and eat the number of beans for the age that you will turn in the coming year, you will have good health!
Eating Sushi - Another Way to Bring Good Luck
In recent times, the tradition of eating Ehomaki, a type of thick sushi roll, on Setsubun has also garnered popularity. This is thanks in good part to the many family sushi restaurants and convenient stores promoting this tradition, eager to boost business through this fun (and delicious!) part of the celebration.
Eho means 'lucky direction' in English, and so the tradition is that people are meant to eat the sushi at one time, in silence, and facing the direction that is deemed to bring good luck for that year. The direction corresponds to the one that Toshitokujin, a God of Good Fortune, is said to face for the year. This year it is south-southeast.
But this is no easy feat since they are so big and thick! There is a wide variety of ingredients, from less traditional beef rolls to more traditional seafood rolls. But truly traditional rolls wrap up seven different ingredients, corresponding to the Seven Gods of Good Fortune. It is quite a challenge to eat one of those in one go!
Celebrating Japanese Traditions at NIS
Setsubun is an example of how we mark and celebrate the traditions of our home country of Japan. Every year the ELC prepares for days before and anticipates the time they can drive out the Oni. Bringing these local traditions to the classroom helps us celebrate our multiculturalism, broaden our understanding of other traditions, and bring a lot of fun into the classroom, too!