Setsubun (節分) is a yearly holiday and festival in Japan held to signify the beginning of spring. The translation of setsubun literally means ‘seasonal division’ and although there are four of these so called divisions, setsubun usually refers to the division between winter and spring. It takes place on February 3rd every year, the day before the beginning of spring in Japan. Traditionally this festival has an association with the Lunar New Year and thus, has rituals and traditions associated with cleansing away the evil spirits of the old year and ushering in the new with good luck.
Although some people go to the local temple to celebrate, many people also carry out the main rituals at home.
Oni finally giving up and running away after being attacked with soy beans and chants
One of the these is mamemaki. According to Wikipedia “roasted soybeans (called “fortune beans” (福豆 fuku mame)) are thrown either out the door or at a member of the family wearing an Oni (demon) mask, while the people say “Demons out! Luck in!” (鬼は外! 福は内! Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!) and slam the door. This is still common practice in households but many people will attend a shrine or temple’s spring festival where this is done. The beans are thought to symbolically purify the home by driving away the evil spirits that bring misfortune and bad health with them. Then, as part of bringing luck in, it is customary to eat roasted soybeans one for each year of one’s life, and in some areas, one for each year of one’s life plus one more for bringing good luck for the year to come.”
In the Kansai region of Japan (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Kobe) it is a customary tradition to eat makizushi (sushi roll) on setsubun. Usually these sushi rolls are cut and eaten with chopsticks like other sushi, but for setsubun, these special ehomaki (恵方巻) meaning lucky direction roll are eaten whole in silence while facing a certain direction. The direction changes every year and is based on the zodiac symbol of the corresponding year – this years lucky direction being east-northeast towards the inoshishi or wild boar. This tradition eating ehomaki in silence is also said to bring about good luck for the coming year. Ehomaki is traditionally comprised of seven ingredients considered lucky including kanpyo (dried shavings of a gourd), egg, eel, and shiitake mushrooms, but often include other ingredients too.
To be completely honest, this is one festival I personally don’t really pay much attention to – but figured it would be worth showing everyone here how to make a sushi roll in case anyone wanted to try this on their own.
In terms of what goes in a sushi roll – well the possibilities are pretty much endless. In general it is a mix of raw fish, egg, vegetables, dried tofu, and pickles. Personally I prefer tuna, salmon, and squid in terms of fish and carrots, cucumber, mushrooms, and pickles made mostly from daikon (Japanese raddish). Please check out the video below for a sneak peak at how exactly my sushi roll was made if your curious or maybe even give it a try yourself. (Unfortunately I missed the first part of the process – but basically, all it entails is spreading the rice on the seaweed by wetting the utensil with cold water to prevent the rice from sticking to it or itself too much;)