From ogre teachers to desserts in the dark, the SoraNews24 team shares their Setsubun styles.

With January having gone by in a flash, we’re fast approaching Setsubun. Traditionally the start of spring under Japan’s historical seasonal reckoning, Setsubun is a day for little rituals meant to usher in prosperity for your home and family and drive away maleficent forces in the coming year.

And you do this by throwing beans.

How this custom got started is something that’s been lost to the sands/amassed thrown beans of time. Some trace it to tales of a monk blinding an oni (ogre or demon) by throwing a bean into its eye, while others point to the linguistic quirk that, in Japanese, mame can mean either “bean” or “eradication of demons” depending on the kanji used to write it.

Regardless of the exact origin, though, bean-throwing on Setsubun, which takes place on February 3, has been going on for centuries in Japan. But does everyone in Japan do its Setsubun bean-throwing the same way? To find out, we asked our Japan-born reporting staff at SoraNews24 HQ, who hail from a variety of regions of Japan, to share their Setsubun traditions, starting with those who grew up in Kanto (east Japan).

● Yoshio (Tokyo)

“My siblings and I would shout ‘Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!’ [“Out with demons, in with good fortune!”, the orthodox phrase for Setsubun bean-throwing] while throwing beans at my dad, who played the part of the oni. I’m pretty sure we just threw whatever kind of beans we happened to have in the house.”

● Masanuki Sunakoma (Saitama)

“At home, my younger brother and I yelled ‘Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!’ and tossed beans out the window. At preschool, I remember one of the teachers put on an oni mask and we threw beans at him. Pretty much the completely standard Setsubun, I think.”

● P.K. Sanjun (Chiba)

“We just did the standard style at my house, but one of the older guys at my old job had a really unique bean ‘throwing’ style. He was in his 60s, and he’d start off with the normal ‘Out with demons…,’ but then he’d gently set the beans down on the ground! He did ‘bean-setting’ instead! I asked him why he did it that way, and he said ‘I mean, if you throw them, you don’t know where they’ll end up, and it’s a pain if you step on them later.’ It turned out he had a really logical approach, and I sometimes wonder if I’ll eventually switch over to how he did it too.”

● Go Hatori (Tokyo)

“My family ran their own business (we were a tile wholesaler), so we took these kinds of good-luck rituals pretty seriously. We made sure to go around to every corner of not just our house, but the office and warehouse too, and do the ‘Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!’ thing while throwing beans. Then when that was done, everyone would eat one bean for each year of their age. The whole family would do this together, and I remember always looking forward to it growing up.”

Moving on to the Kansai region…

● Seiji Nakazawa (Osaka)

“Just the regular bean-throwing. But I remember that the first time I did it at preschool it seemed like a really big deal that we were going to be throwing food, which was usually supposed to be a huge no-no, and I brought some of the beans back home with me. Oh, and we didn’t have a teacher dressed up as an oni. We just threw the beans, without anyone as the target.”

● Yuichiro Wasai (Kyoto)

“I remember my little sister and I going to the window and shouting ‘Out with demons!’ as we tossed the beans outside, and also saying ‘In with good fortune!’ while we threw beans inside the house. We didn’t have an oni target, and we didn’t really have a set order for where we threw the beans. I think we were just happy to be throwing things.”

And, finally, heading out to other parts of Japan…

● Ahiruneko (Hokkaido)

“My mom was in charge of shouting ‘Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi,’ and we’d go around to every room at home throwing beans. We lived in a condo, so we didn’t have a garden to throw the beans into, but we’d still open the windows while throwing the beans inside the rooms, and since Hokkaido is still really cold in February, I remember the air that came in was freezing.”

● Mariko Ohanabatake (Nagasaki)

“At school we did the ‘Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi’ thing and threw beans at an oni teacher, but we never did at home, because my parents didn’t want the house to get messy. I used to work at a publisher that produced fortune-telling content, and we made a super big deal of Setsubun at the office. On each floor, the whole staff would get totally into the bean throwing, and it was a lot of fun letting loose like that as an adult. I think we should start doing it here at SoraNews24.”

● Takashi Harada (Fukuoka)

“We didn’t throw beans at my house at all. Instead, we’d turn off all the lights in the room and throw sweets, but my parents would still say ‘Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi.’ Then my siblings and I would search for the sweets in the dark, feeling around for them and picking them up. Looking back on it now, it’s a pretty crazy family tradition, but it was a lot of fun.”

We should note that these are only our reporters’ personal experiences, and the quirkier parts of this list aren’t necessarily indicative of their home prefectures as a whole (though if dessert-in-the-dark parties ever do catch on in Fukuoka, Takashi’s family deserves at least some of the credit). Instead, this is all a reminder that while Japan is in many ways a country of traditions, there’s still room for flexibility in how individuals celebrate Setsubun. So do your bean-tossing however you like, and don’t forget to eat a giant sushi roll while you’re at it.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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