Feb 5, 2011

Finding Chinese New Year traces in Setsubun

When the Chinese around the world ushered in the year of rabbit on 3 February this year, the Japanese were celebrating 節分 setsubun, which means the change of season. Though theoretically there are 4 節分s in a year, but only the one which signify the change from winter to spring is celebrated every year.

At the end of February, supermarkets started to sell beans.

Beans (豆 mame) play an important role in 節分 customs.

First, we should eat the same number of beans as our age. For example, if I am 18 years old, I should eat 18 beans. Mmm... it will be pretty difficult when I become an old lady though... :P

Second, children will throw beans at the monster (鬼 oni). And of course, the monster will lose the battle. This special ritual is called 豆撒き (mamemaki).

My Japanese colleague told me that her parents used to dress as monsters and let the three siblings throw beans at them for this day. Kindergartens also have this practice today. It seems like a really fun day for the kids. :)

This tradition is pretty similar to the Chinese tradition of lighting firecrackers during 农历新年 Chinese New Year. According to the folktale, a long long time ago, a monster called 年 (nian) terrorised a village. In order to chase it away, the villagers gathered together and lit many firecrackers. Eventually, the loud noise scared the monster away. It signifies chasing away the old year (年 nian) and welcoming the new year.

Another interesting custom of 節分 is eating 恵方巻 (ehoumaki), which is a long uncut maki. According to this ritual, we have to finish eating the 恵方巻 while facing a specific direction. This direction is determined by the year. Each year, the direction is different. This special direction is called 恵方 (ehou). For 2011, the direction is slightly Northeast.

Too bad, I only heard of the custom the day after 節分, and the supermarket no longer sell any 恵方巻. :(

恵方 is pretty similar to Chinese belief in 风水 fengshui, which determines the different auspicious directions for different aspects like health, wealth, love, career and so on. The directions changes, too.

Well, I hope to try out the 恵方巻 tradition in future though. :)


Yup, I am participating the Japan Blog Matsuri again! :) This time, the theme for February is on "Famous Japanese Events". If you have a blog post to share on the theme, do find out more from this month's host, Reesan's blog or FAQ page.