Setsubun 節分, is a seasonal indicator that marks the day before the beginning of Spring in the old calendar. Before 1873 the Japanese followed the lunar calendar marking the new year in February but when Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar in the Meiji period the new year shifted to January. Typically held on February 3rd around the time of the lunar new year it is now celebrated as a spring festival “Haru Matsuri” the day before we start again through the journey of the 24 micro season or sekki of Japan the first called Risshun. I have a totally separate section in my menu to follow these if you would like to follow along each month.
Even though it still doesn’t feel much like spring in Japan the first of the seasonal flowers of great importance start to bloom. The plum blossom. This is the month when the snow starts to melt and people may go out to parks to view the first of the spring blooms. Look closely and you may see a little green bird amongst the blooms called Uguisu a Japanese nightingale.
Why not celebrate Setsubun this year. Even now it looks very unlikely that we will be visiting Japan again this year so I think we still need those traditions to keep Japan alive in our hearts. 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. I guess during the cold winter months it is easier to get sick and it was believed that this was caused by such demons or “oni” as they are known. At this time it is custom to repel these demons from our homes. One such way to do this is mamemaki the throwing of roasted soy beans . 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.
Traditionally another thing to do with these beans is to eat as many of these beans as your age. This is done for good luck and good health.
Another tradition to ward of 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 hung holly at my door.
The last custom you might already know as I made this the inspiration for my second recipe card, is to make a Eho-maki 恵方巻 lucky sushi roll.
The long fat sushi roll must contain seven ingredients, representing the seven lucky gods Shichifukujin. It doesn’t really matter what you put in your sushi roll it’s what ever you like. I used my delicious nori that came with this months recipe card and filled it with seasoned mixed grain sushi rice, on top of which I placed shiso leaves, umeboshi paste,red pickled cabbage,aburaage rolled Japanese cucumber, kikurage also known as wood ear mushrooms and kiriboshi daikon which I soaked in Umesu.
You must eat this sushi roll holding it in both hands while in silence thinking about what you might want to achieve this year while you face the years lucky direction. This year is NNW.
Many temples and shrines in Japan normally hold events on this day, sadly I think again most are cancelled. I’m definitely going to be holding my eho-maki this year and wishing for things to get back to normal soon so we can all enjoy travelling once more.
What will you wish for ? A healthy new year ahead, a new job maybe ? It is custom to leave your worries behind and have a fresh start . So don’t worry if you haven’t put things into motion yet now is the time to start on those new year plans. What ever you wish for “Happy Lunar New Year and welcome in Spring !