“Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (鬼は外、福は内).
Demons out, Good Fortune in!” For today is Setsubun no Hi held on (節分の日) February 3rd.
Setsubun 節分, is a seasonal indicator that marks the day before the beginning of Spring and is now celebrated as a spring festival “Haru Matsuri”.
Setsubun is the day before we start again through the journey of the 24 micro season or sekki of Japan when we welcome in Risshun 立春 the beginning of Spring.
This is midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Even though we are in the coldest days, in Japan you will start to see those signs that spring is near by. The days are just getting slightly longer and you can see the start of life emerging from the earth. Ume blossom is starting to bloom, giving those well needed splashes of colour to the brown landscape and maybe you might see flashes of a little green bird known as Uguisu (bush warbler or the Japanese nightingale) another symbol of spring.
Let’s enjoy Setsubun with Ehou Maki 恵方巻き, Ehō-maki
On this day there are a few customs in Japan one of them is to eat an uncut makizushi called Ehō-maki 恵方巻, “lucky direction sushi roll” while you sit in silence facing the years lucky direction. The “lucky direction” (恵方) of this year 2023 is south-south-east (南南東).
This changes every year depending on the current zodiac. The word “Eho” means the auspicious direction,this is where the god of good fortune for the year exists and is also called “Kippou” or “Akinokata/Akihou”.
The Ehō-maki must have seven ingredients,these relate to the Seven Lucky Gods (七福神, Shichi Fukujin) from local folklore who are in charge of bringing prosperity in business and good health. It doesn’t matter what you put in your sushi roll it can be anything you like but it’s good to have a variety of ingredients. Just eat the whole roll without cutting it into slices with a knife and eat in silence,if you speak, the good fortune will escape.
Setsubun is all about the Oni 鬼 (おに) 👹
Oni are a kind of yōkai, demon, orc, ogre, or troll in Japanese folklore. They are known as the god of mountains and have a fearful appearance. It is believed that the Oni come to punish humans when they misbehave. They come in many varieties, but are most commonly depicted with two or more horns, and fang-like tusks, red or blue skin, wild hair, large in size and possess superhuman strength. They are terrifying in appearance and are associated with disease and misfortune. They are often shown carrying their choice weapon: a large, heavy iron hexagonal club, called a tetsubō, covered in spikes,which is used for torturing victims. They are typically depicted wearing little-to-no clothing, but when clothed they are usually shown wearing a loincloth made of tiger skin.
It was believed that this time of year the spirit world and our world combined making it easy for evil spirits to bring illness into our homes. During the cold winter months it is easier to get sick and it was believed that this was caused by oni. At this time it is custom to repel these demons from our homes. One such way to do this is Mamemaki (豆まき), the throwing of roasted soybeans. So why use soybeans ? They are believed to have sacred power along with rice, which could get rid of evil spirits. The Japanese word for beans is pronounced as mame (豆) and sounds similar to the word for demon eyes (mame, 魔目) and because of that throwing beans has a similar sound to destroying demons (mametsu, 魔滅).
It is custom to fill a Japanese wooden cup called a masu with such beans and throw them out the entrance to your home or maybe at a family member dressed as a demon. As you do this you shout “Oni wa soto ! Fuku wa uchi”鬼は外! 福は内! meaning Demons out good fortune in.
Since it is believed that ogres come at midnight, nighttime is the best time to start the bean-throwing ceremony. Open the front door or window of your house and scatter beans, saying “Oni wa soto!” After closing the doors and windows immediately to prevent the ogres from returning, scatter the beans inside the room, saying “Fuku wa uchi!”
Another tradition to ward off the evil spirit is to hang holly at your door with wait for it a smelly sardine head stuck on top. This talisman is called Hiragi iwashi. The evil spirits are apparently repelled by the strong smell and thorns of the holly leaves. Needless to say I just hang holly at my door being vegan.
This year I decided to have a little fun and combine my Ehō-maki with an Oni tiger pants pattern .
I first made my sushi roll making the rice on the outside with my seven fillings on the inside.
I them decided to use a vegan omelette on the outside using a new vegan omelette brand called Nomelette by Sun & Seed.
Making the omelette and then rolling it around the sushi roll. Finally I added a few tiger stripes made from nori.
You may now not only see the traditional sushi rolls sold in stores in japan but variations from roll cakes to burritos so why not have some fun making your own version of Ehō-maki and celebrate the beginning of Spring like they do in japan .