February, 3rd is the day that we celebrate Setubun by doing Mame-maki in Japan; throwing beans outside front door of your house and from the windows saying “oni-wa-soto”, which means “the demon is outside”. Families then close the door right after they throw the beans so that the demons do not come back in and they start throwing beans inside the house while saying “fuku-wa-uchi”, which means “luck is inside”.
People in the past had believed that the beginning of a season was the easiest time for a demon to sneak into the house and cause problems. So, Setubun was originally celebrated on the eve of every season. It has turned to represent only the eve of spring since it’s the most important season after a New Year.
The types of beans that are thrown are soybeans. The Japanese believed that soybeans carried good spirits within them, which fight off the demons. Rice is also believed to have good spirits in them, however, since soy beans are bigger they are better suited to warding off demons. Also the Japanese way of saying ‘bean’ is ‘mame’ which is similar to how the Japanese say ‘dispel demon’, “ma wo mesuru”.
Demons represent bad luck which causes disaster, disease and poverty. The place they live is kimon, which is the direction of cow and tiger according to the zodiac. Because of this, they have cow horns, tiger teeth and wear tiger patterned pants.
Beans need to be fried before they are thrown and those fried beans are called fuku-mame (it’s literally fortune beans in Japanese) it should be put in front of a shrine or kamidana to be ready for the day of Setubun. People who don’t have kamidana at their house might put them on a high place like the top of shelves/drawers with a white sheet of paper underneath. After Mame-maki, we eat the beans (the number of your age plus one) wishing us luck for a new year. Eating beans are also believed to get good fortune by getting power against disease.
Instead of doing Mame-maki, the new way that has been spread out Japan now is Ehou-maki. Ehou-Maki is a long roll sushi with seven ingredients inside, associated with 7 good fortune gods. In order not to miss any good fortune, the roll cannot cut with a knife.
This sushi is named after the way to eat. 1) Look at Ehou, the direction of the year (East-northeast in 2014), 2) Start eating with one big bite first while making a wish 3) Keep eating without saying anything until finished.
This custom started as a local custom in some Japanese towns to celebrate Setubun, yet it’s been gradually gaining popularity over the years. The reason does not only because it’s fun but also because there’s no need to clean up like Mamemaki, where you have to pick up all of the beans in and outside the house. Many housewives prefer Eho-maki better since they can replace it as dinner dishes.