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Japan’s Bean Tossing Festival: Eating ehomaki roll and lucky beans on Setsubun

Japan’s Bean Tossing Festival: Eating ehomaki roll and lucky beans on Setsubun

3 February 2019. It was past lunchtime so the racks in 7-11 were almost empty, except for special items on display—thick maki rolls, marketed as ehomaki (恵方巻 “lucky direction rolls”) eaten only on Setsubun (節分).

 

There were also rows of roll cakes with an adorable demon’s face on their packaging. How is one able to resist buying them when these items appear once every year, especially when they are packaged and presented so nicely on the shelves?

 

What is Setsubun?

Setsubun is a festival held on the day before the beginning of spring according to the Japanese lunar calendar (typically on 2, 3, or 4 February). Rituals are held on this day to drive away evil spirits and welcome good fortune.

So cute that I couldn’t resist a slice of it! (Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

I was on my way to a Meetup event—an ehomaki making and eating session, when I arrived at a brown, tiled building nestled within an indoor shopping street in Nishikujo, Osaka. 

 

The words 「ふたば」 (futaba) were imprinted in gold on the shopfront. I peeked inside before entering.

 

Sheets of nori (のり dried seaweed), makisu (巻きす sushi rolling mats), a pot of vinegared rice, and the seven essential ingredients to make ehomaki were laid on the table. They represented good health, happiness, and prosperity. Rolling them was an act to usher in good luck for the year.

 

Making ehomaki

A very rough guide to making ehomaki. (Illustration by Qiu Ting)

 

Before we got our rolls rolling, our event host, Nana began the session with a self-introduction:

「自己紹介をします。」(“I will introduce myself.”)

「よろしくお願いいたします。」(”Please be kind to me as we go along.” This Japanese expression is loaded with so many different meanings, so this is just one of the many possible interpretations.)

 

We first placed a layer of cling wrap over the makisu, and then a sheet of nori on top of it. After which, we gently spread the vinegared rice in the middle of the nori, bearing in mind not to compact the rice too much. The ingredients then took centrestage, one after another:

  1. tamagoyaki (卵焼 rolled omelette)
  2. unagi (うなぎ eel)
  3. seasoned koyadofu (高野豆腐 freeze dried beancurd)
  4. kanpyo (干瓢 dried gourd strip)
  5. kani kama (カニカマ mock crabmeat sticks)
  6. spinach
  7. a dash of pink fluffy sakura denbu (桜でんぶ sweet-salty flaked fish condiment)

 

A completed ehomaki looks something like this. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

My ehomaki looked almost impossible to roll—stuffed with all 7 ingredients, symbolising the Seven Lucky Gods. At the same time, our taste buds awaited the burst of flavours in our mouths:

「いただきます!」 (“Grateful for the meal together.”)

 

According to the Japanese calendar in Heisei 31 (平成31, 2019), the “good fortune direction” or eho (恵方) for the year was East-Northeast. With the help of a compass, we sat and munched on our maki in companionable silence while facing East-Northeast direction.

 

It is believed that the ehomaki resembles a devil’s metal rod and by eating it whole during Setsubun, one can ward off devils and bad luck in general.

「ごちそうさまでした!」(“Thank you for the delicious meal together.”)

 

Nana then passed around a lacquered box of roasted soybeans before saying, “The number of beans you eat should correspond to your age.”

Happy to partake in my first Setsubun with newfound friends, I counted 28 and popped them all into my mouth.

 

Setsubun 2020

Hello from Minatogawa Shrine! (Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

Fast forward to the following year, I visited Minatogawa Shrine (湊川神社 Minatogawa-jinja) in Kobe to bask in the festivities—and in hopes of catching some lucky beans (福豆 fukumame).

 

Let’s see what’s in these fortune pouches! (Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

The word “bean” is mame (豆・まめ) in Japanese. There is a pun on the pronunciation of the word “mame” in which it is associated with good character (真面目 majime)—sincerity, conscientiousness, and diligence, to name a few. 

 

In this case, eating the roasted soybeans would be considered as an act of blessing oneself. “Mame” also sounds like the kanji characters for “devil's eyes” (魔目) in Japanese, so throwing and scattering soybeans would thus scare and drive the devil away.

 

Lucky bean: Catch me if you can! (Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

Standing in the midst of the crowd, I saw many others with their hands held high in the air, readying themselves to catch the beans scattered in all directions while shouting, "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" (「鬼は外!福は内!」"Devils out! Fortune in!").

 

Still no luck… better luck next time! (Image credit: Qiu Ting)

 

I followed suit, but unfortunately, paled in comparison with the others in the crowd, in terms of speed and dexterity. 

 

Fortune beans. (Image credit: Qiu TIng)

 

Honestly, it was so much fun just witnessing the festival and listening to the energetic voices in the crowd just before the onset of the pandemic in 2020. This fortune pouch of lucky beans from the shrine maiden was all that I needed!

 

Minatogawa Shrine (湊川神社)
Address: 3-1-1 Tamondori, Chuo Ward, Hyogo 650-0015
Nearest station: JR Kobe Station (神戸駅)
Access: 5-minute walk from JR Kobe Station
Opening hours: 05:30-18:30 (Open daily)
Tel: +81 78-371-0001

 

Header image credit: Qiu Ting

 

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