Monday, January 31, 2011

setsubun ~bean-scattering festival

February 3 is when Japan celebrates Setsubun (sometimes called Bean-scattering festival or Bean-Throwing Ceremony). Although the word setsubun means "seasonal division," and there are more than one of those throughout the year, when we talk about the Setsubun festival, we mean the spring setsubun, which is celebrated yearly on February 3. Chinese cultures celebrate this day as New Year's Day according to the lunar calendar, and even in Japan, Spring Setsubun can be considered a sort of New Year-related festival.

On Setsubun, people go through certain rituals that are meant to drive away the bad luck left over from the previous year, and invite in the good luck. The main ritual is called Mame-maki (bean scattering). Traditionally, we throw roasted soybeans out through the doorway or at someone wearing a horned Oni (ogre) mask, all the while yelling "Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!" (Out with the ogre/bad luck, In with the good luck). Then, for further luck, each person eats the same number of beans as the number of years they've lived, plus one extra bean.

I do not actively participate in this tradition, but I am rather fond of it, because, like other Japanese festivals and holidays, it keeps me aware of the rhythm of the seasons and assures me, even during the coldest part of our Hokkaido winter, that spring is approaching.... however slowly.

Celebrating seasonal changes is fundamental to Etegami art. So, naturally, I was compelled to mark Setsubun with an etegami (or two, or three, or...). In the two samples posted here, I chose to refer to Setsubun a bit obliquely, and had some fun with word-play. The first etegami quotes a line from a children's song about feeding mame (beans/peas) to pigeons. The second etegami depicts roasted soybeans in a small wooden measuring box, a widely recognized prop for the bean-scattering ceremony. The accompanying words play with the similarity between the word for "good luck" and the word for "good news/gospel." They translate to "Out with the good news! In with the good news! Scatter the good news!"


  1. I didn't know about this tradition but now it will be my tradition. You, wise people from far East have lots of good ideas for a better life.
    And your box with soybeans is just adorable.

  2. Always something new to learn about Japanese culture here! I must email my Japanese daughter in law and offer to throw some beans to keep bad luck away. Love the little box of beans.

  3. I love hearing about other traditions. And I really love the pigeons!! So soft and beautiful.

    When my friends chase pigeons and crows away from their bird feeders I tell them I equate that with racial profiling :)

  4. Happy Setsubun to you, Debbie! As a christian, I especially like the second etegami :-D

    Thank you for the comment on my last post! I've finally started organizing my room. Hope you are having a wonderful week!

  5. Very nice! I love when you give explanations about Japanese traditions along with your wonderful drawings. I'd love to see some with the Onis. The idea remind me of many animes I've watched, especially Spirited Away that is one of my very favorites.

  6. WAY back in the day my (first) husband and I had a Bean Throwing Day party... we were just looking for an excuse to do something fun/crazy in the middle of winter. Glad to see it is a real deal and not just an invention by the Chase Calender!!

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