Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Your Guide to The Ultimate Setsubun Party

Scattering Beans and Eating Ehomaki to See in Spring

The Japanese Festival of Setsubun celebrates the coming of spring. Each year about the 3rd or4th of February people gather to ward off evil spirits and invite good fortune into their lives. Like most festivals in Japan there is a fair amount of superstition and some ritual involved, but it's all good clean fun, especially for kids.

Day 034 / 七福恵方巻き食べた。 February 03 by [puamelia].
七福恵方巻き食べた。 by [puamelia]. 

The tradition of eating specially prepared rolled sushi (恵方まき | ehomaki) while facing in the new years lucky direction originated in Kansai. This year the direction to face is a little to the right of West, So'West. (2010年の恵方は「西南西」). It is customary to eat the whole roll in one go while making a wish.

The special ritual to ward off evil spirits is called mamemaki (豆まき | bean scattering) and is usually done by the toshiotoko (年男 | senior male) or the male who was born in the current chinese calendar year. Beans are thrown in the direction of a less fortunate member of the family wearing a demon mask.

Follow a few of these simple steps and you could have Setsubun party to remember for your household or your neighbourhood.

Preparing your bean scattering party

Make a demon mask: Oni-no-men (鬼の面 | Demon mask) are easy enough to make out of paper or card. If you're the creative type you can get a few good ideas from a Google image search for 鬼の面. You can you print out this paper craft oni-no-men on the Kids goo site to colour in later, or save time by doing it online. There's even a full craft set for setsubun with instructions. I'm going for a slightly scarier mask from Yamaha paper craft for all seasons.

Prepare ehomaki: Preparing sushi needn't be just for the foodies, and rolling it yourself always brings satisfaction, for me anyway. There are stores that prepare special once a year ehomaki, for which people queue for hours before dawn, but you don't need to go to any extremes. If you're game try this ehomaki recipe from cookpad, Japan's most popular recipe site. Or for a comprehensive look at tips and techniques for making maki sushi at home visit the Sushi Faq.

Throwing the party, eating sushi and scattering beans to see in Spring

Decide who your demon is going to be before things get underway, the element of surprise is most important if you're going to have the most fun. The party begins with the customary scoffing of the ehomaki. Stand facing a little to the right of West So'West, this year's lucky direction, to eat your sushi while making a wish. Make a big wish because it could take a while, it's important to finish the whole roll without stopping.

During the rest of your meal, which might be something as simple as sardines on rice, count enough roast soybeans for each year of your age plus one for good luck. The surplus beans are gathered up and placed in ceremonial cups (paper will do) in preparation for scattering. As you eat your beans take time out for reflection. Once you're done pick up your paper cups and head towards a door or open window to begin the bean scattering ceremony.

It is usually at this time that the demon appears and the chant rises up to cast out evil and bring in luck. Toss your beans at the demon while chanting "Oni wa soto, Fuku wa Uchi!" (鬼は外! 福は内! | Out with the Devil! In with good fortune!). In the Fukushima region family members yell "Oni no medama buttsubuse!" (鬼の目玉ぶっつぶせっ! | Demon's eyes, crush crush!). You may want to choose your own local version too!

Have you experienced Setsubun before? Do you plan to do anything this year? Post some photos of your favourite demon mask on the Rainbowhill Facebook Fan Page and join in the conversation.

Setsubun images courtesy of http://illpop.com/
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