A year ago today, while I was in the middle of a lecture in my language school me and my classmates were suddenly scared by screams and shouting coming from the hallway.
While our teacher was pretending nothing happened, we run outside the classroom and found ourselves in front of a red-skinned monster, with little horns in the middle of ruffled black hair and leopard-print pants that was yelling and slamming his wooden club left and right.
No, it wasn’t a horror movie. Our school simply wanted to show us in a really “interactive” way (not appreciated by everyone, as we all got scared by the screams) that that day was the Setsugun feast.
According to the Japanese lunar calendar, (different from ours that follows the Sun) spring starts on February 4th.
To celebrate the beginning of this season, which as you know, is one of the most-awaited, ever February 3 is the feast of Setsubun.
During this day, evil spirits are cast out and people life is clean and purify from bad things, ready to start in the right way the new year and the arrival of the good season.
The whole feast revolves around the figure of the demon, in Japan called Oni, that on this day, appear in the houses to scare children (and adults!).
Tradition says that to kick the monster away, you need to throw soybeans at him while saying:
“ONI WA SOTO!! FUKU WA UCHI!!”
(OUTH WITH THE DEAMONS!! IN WITH THE LUCK!!)
Now considered a celebration of children (on this day, parents and teachers dress up as monsters to scare them), Setsugun sees its origins in the past.
It was considered a moment of “purification” of the mind and the body and was celebrated in various temples.
The choice of the bean, and more generally the cereal, is not accidental. Beans and cereals have always been respected as a food rich in nutrients able to help the body regenerate and survive diseases.
“Cereals have the vitality and energy of an amulet” and as such can eliminate the bad energy that surrounds us.
Depending on the area where you are, Setsubun is celebrated on Japanese tables differently.
Nara prefecture is famous for the preparation of barley rice, in Nagano prefecture, Tororo soup, in Shimane prefecture, sea cucumber with vinegar…
Each region, or rather each area, differs in the ingredients used.
However, some customs are common throughout the country and are still respected by the young generation. In particular soybeans and Ehomaki.
About their importance and the power that makes them able to cast out the demon, we have already talked about, but did you know that they are also delicious?
In the days ahead of Setsubun, you can find in supermarkets shelves full of these crispy roasted beans that are not only used to throw against Oni but are also eaten.
In particular, tradition says that each individual should eat as many beans as their age + 1.
That extra one ensures an extra shred of health in the new year!
If Ehomaki is a word that confuses you, perhaps you have heard about their better-known version called Makizushi.
These are Sushi rolls with fillings that vary from vegetables, fish, meat, kimchi, egg … The only small difference from Makizushi is the size that distinguishes them and the way they are eaten.
The correct way to eat Ehomaki is to face the lucky direction and eat the whole sushi roll without stopping and in complete silence. (Pay attention because the direction changes every year, in 2020 is West-South-West)
Be careful to chew well and no, if you’re wondering, I couldn’t eat it all in one bite, even though my husband has proved to be quite skillful.
A great way to celebrate the arrival of spring and a healthy way to feel good and ready for the good season that is coming!