February 3rd was Setsubun in Japan,  marking the seasonal division according to the lunar calendar. Setsubun incorporates elements of Mardi Gras, Halloween, Groundhog day, and culinary geomancy. While  there is ample info about this great traditional holiday available on the web, I’d thought I share some of my experiences from the day.

Being that this year’s February 3rd fell on a Sunday, it was the first time I got to witness the event in-person (on a non-workday) since moving to Japan.  Prior to this year my Setsubun memory was confined to when I worked at a Japanese Kindergarten and was required to wear a red “devil” mask and stand in the playground as the children were encouraged to hurl hard soybeans at me. Aside from this not-so-subtle xenophobic and physically painful experience my Setsubun knowledge came from short news highlights and poorly translated descriptions from my less than fluent Japanese English co-teachers.

This year I was determined to get to the heart of Setsubun, so me and my wife made our way to Sumiyoshi Shrine around 2:30 for the local Setsubun event. Instead of the normally peaceful, relatively uncrowded confines of the small Shinto shrine, we were confronted with a completely packed house – most definitely a fire hazard-esque scene. In the shrine’s courtyard was a long platform decorated in red and white stripes.


After the grounds became sufficiently sardine packed with onlookers, a series of barely audible announcements were made via megaphone. Then several well-dressed septuagenarians from the town council took their position on the platform, clutching bags filled with snacks and other low-cost sundries.  Japanese Taiko drumming then began, at which time the elders proceeded to hurl those snacks into the crowd. Many  in the crowd were very much prepared for this and had brought catching bags which they placed over their heads.  Children were also placed on the shoulders of parents, and old grandmothers elbowed their way into whatever nooks of space they could find — all in the hope of catching this year’s giveaways (cup noodles, peanuts, tissues, and corn chip snacks)

This lasted several rounds, and some of those lucky enough went home with considerable booty. My wife managed to clamor to the front (while I stayed toward the exits in fear of a stampede), and filled her ecobag with about ten different snacks. Total value? 120 Yen.

The elders bestow “happiness” by throwing peanuts, pocket tissues, and instant noodles
Toss that “happiness”!

After that half hour of madness we returned home and my wife prepared her version of ehoumaki (恵方巻) a seaweed wrap of rice and other fillings.  Ehoumaki is to be eaten in silence while facing the opposite of the bad luck direction as believed in Chinese astrology.(This year it was South-South East, the “happiness” direction).  A kind of edible Feng Shui, if you will. It was pretty darn good and it keeps the “devil” away apparently.

Eat your ehoumaki in silence while facing the geomantically correct direction!