Are you ready for Setsubun? What you need to know before you go!


Are you ready for Setsubun? Haven't picked up the supplies yet?  Not even sure what setsubun is?  Allow me to point you in the right direction, seeing as it is one of my favorite (and one of the most quirky holidays in Japan).

So without further ado...

What is Setsubun?
In the United States, we celebrate Groundhog Day on February 2nd (well, as much as one can "celebrate" a holiday based on the question of whether or not a Groundhog sees Jack Frost's shadow).  The point of that holiday is to see how many more weeks of Winter we'll have to endure.  

Japan has its own holiday tradition for celebrating the break between Winter and Spring: Setsubun (literally, the "splitting of the seasons") on February 3rd each year.  The origin of this celebration goes back much further of course, and has its own unique qualities.  Dating back to Muromachi era in Japan (1336-1573), the traditions carried forward in Setsubun emerged as a means to shake off the evil spirits of the previous year.  How would you celebrate that?  Simply put, certain festival-goers would dress up as oni (demons), and others would pelt them with dried beans.  In essence, it became a festival where one wards off the demons of the past for a fresh start going into spring!
Where can you celebrate Setsubun?
Most local temples and shrines will have some sort of Setsubun celebration, so all you really have to do is stroll to the place of worship closest to you on February 3rd  and you're likely to stumble across some demons or bean-throwers enjoying the festival.

Still, if you want to go to the most impressive Setsubun festival in Japan, I recommend visiting the Tengu Matsuri in Shimokitazawa, a popular borough of Tokyo.  Nowhere in Japan does Setsubun like "Shimokita," and this year, the festival runs from Friday the 2nd to Sunday the 4th with events including a parade, the traditional bean throwing, and even live comedy.

You can check out the website here, and the map to Shimokitazawa is below:



What should you bring for Setsubun?
There are really only two things you need to get before heading out to a setsubun matsuri (festival).

The first is an oni mask:

The second is a bag of beans:


Where can you stock up on Setsubun supplies?
Most matsuri (festival) locations will have at least some supplies for sale, as will your standard supermarket.  Still, if you are looking for an easy solution to your setsubun supply search, just visit your local convenience store.  In their seasonal section, you should be able to come across a spread like this:

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Don't be afraid of the cost, either--you can pick up the basics for just a couple hundred yen!

So there you have it...

...a quick guide of how to get ready for Setsubun.  If you are going to be in Japan at the beginning of February, I say zehi, go throw some beans and put those evil spirits behind you!

Mike B