What do beans, sardines, Japanese ogres, and giant sushi rolls have in common?

The fascinating Japanese holiday known as Setsubun (seh-tsu-BOON), of course!

Setsubun (節分) is a traditional festival in Japan that marks the day before the beginning of Spring according to the old Japanese lunar calendar. This year, Setsubun falls on Saturday, February 3rd. There are many fun rituals associated with the holiday, many of which are focused on chasing out all the bad luck that lurks at the turning of the seasons.


Image of soybeans in a box next to a homemade oni mask.

One of the most common rituals is mamemaki (豆撒き), or “bean scattering.”  This involves throwing roasted soybeans out the doors and windows of the homes, schools and temples to ward off bad luck  A popular variation of this tradition, especially among children, is to throw beans at a family member wearing an oni mask. Oni (鬼), or Japanese ogres, symbolize illness and misfortune, so throwing beans at them is thought to help purify the home. Children typically chase oni out of the house with beans before slamming the door in their faces for good measure.

Image of a girl throwing beans at her father and brother with Oni masks on.

As beans are thrown about, it is important to shout:

鬼は外! 福は内!
Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!
Bad luck out! Fortune in!

After scattering the beans, everyone must then eat as many beans as their age and then one extra for good health.

Hiiragi Iwashi

Image of hiiragi iwashi next to a box of soybeans.

Once all the bad luck has been chased out, it’s a good idea to prevent it from coming back in. To ward off misfortune, families in some parts of Japan hang hiiragi iwashi outside their doors. Hiiragi Iwashi (柊鰯), which literally translates to “holly sardine,” is a decoration that consists of a grilled sardine head attached to sprigs of holly. The thought is that the fishy smell of the sardines coupled with the prickly holly will create an effective barrier against oni entering the home.

Ehoumaki (Lucky Direction Rolls)

Image of ehou-maki

Eating ehoumaki on the evening of Setsubun is another popular tradition originating from the Kansai region of Japan. Ehoumaki is a thick type of sushi roll typically made with 7 different fillings, representing good health, luck and prosperity. The type of ingredient does not matter as much as the number, so many varieties exist. In recent years, even modern interpretations like dessert ehoumaki made out of rolled sponge cake, whipped cream and fruit have gained in popularity.

It is believed that if you can eat the whole uncut roll in complete silence whilst facing the lucky direction of the year, your wish will come true!  

This year’s lucky direction is East-Northeast!

Interested in learning more about Japanese culture?

Join us at the library for the following programs:

With your library card, you can also learn Japanese for free at your own pace with Mango Languages.

Mango Languages

All branches of the North Bergen Library will be closed on Sunday, March 26th and Monday, March 27th. The Guttenberg Resource Center will close at 2 pm on Friday, May 24th.