February 3rd, it is called “SETSUBUN” (節分) in Japan.
SETSUBUN literally means “seasonal division”, the day before the beginning of spring.
In the lunar calendar, it is a sort of New Year’s Eve. (Feb 4th is the start of a new year called “RISSHUN”(立春)).
In SETSUBUN, as a traditional custom, holly sprig with a head of sardine attached is hung at the entrance of one’s home. The thorns of a holly is said to cleanse away the evil of the former year and the sardine, as it smells bad, is said to drive away demons.
Nowadays, it is rare to see it in the urban areas, but when I was a child, I often found the package of holly and the sardine head sold at the market at around this time of a year.
In SETSUBUN day, “MAMEMAKI” (豆まき), literally means “bean scattering” is performed. It is said to come from Chinese custom.
In MAMEMAKI, you scatter soy beans outside your house saying “Out with the demon!” and scatter it inside your house saying “in with fortune!”
In the tradition of my area, we put the soy beans bought in the previous day into a square container called “MASU” (桝). Before doing MAMEMAKI on SETSUBUN day, offer it to “KAMIDANA” (神棚), a household Shinto alter.
The beans are scattered in all the rooms of a house then pick up the beans for the number of one’s age (the age you will reach this year) and eat them slowly.
As I am reaching 66 years old this year, I picked up 66 beans.
When you become older it is quite hard to eat them all, so I put them in a tea pot and poor hot water, then drink it as “FUKUCHA” (福茶), fortune tea!.
It tastes good with rich flavor.
Another event on the SETSUBUN day is to eat “EHŌ-MAKI” (恵方巻).
EHŌ means the lucky direction of the year and MAKI means a thick sushi roll with 7 kinds of foods inside as 7 is a lucky number.
Since this lucky sushi roll is really huge, you have to open your month wide and bite into it from the edge.
When you eat it, you make a wish toward the lucky direction. If eating it silently without words, your wish is said to come true.
So I also ate it silently making a wish turning my face toward this year’s lucky direction of south-southeast!