Setsubun is the day before the start of spring and New Year according to the old Japanese lunar calendar. The name means the divide between the seasons.
Mame-maki began as a New Year ritual to drive out evil spirits and pray for health and well being for the family. Fukumame, literally ‘fortune beans’ (roasted soy beans) are thrown out of the door or window while shouting ‘demons out, good luck in’ (oni wa soto, fuku wa ichi). Apparently oni don’t like beans so these send them away. My husband donned an oni mask and entered through a side door to screams of delight from our children, we then threw lots of beans at him chanting ‘demons out / oni wa soto’ until he escaped through the back door. (Yes, there were soy beans everywhere…..last year we kept finding them for days after). Then everyone in the family eats one soybean for each year of their age, plus one more to avoid sickness for the year.
Or ‘lucky direction sushi rolls’. In Kansai area, where we live, people eat long, uncut makizushi, a large rolled sushi. These are placed in a lucky direction (depending on the Chinese horoscope year) and eaten in silence. We were too hungry to wait for makizushi so we started with hand rolled sushi, temakizushi (meaning we could still talk..) and then had one eho-maki each, duly facing south, south east and eating in silence. There was no hanging around for me to take photos so it was just a quick one on the iPhone.
Setsubun is celebrated in schools and kindergartens. My elementary students had mini-makizushi and roasted soy beans for school lunch. At my daughters’ kindergarten the two bus drivers dress up as oni and visit each class. All the children end up crying, although I am sure the older ones, who know full well who the oni really are, just cry because everyone else does. I am not sure I like this particular custom so was actually relieved when my daughters were off today with a cold.