Setsubun （節 分, “Division of the seasons”) is a festival that takes place on February 3 or 4, one day before spring begins according to the Japanese lunar calendar. Setsubun it is a national holiday.
For many centuries, the Japanese people have performed rituals for the purpose of driving away evil spirits by start spring. Around the 18th century, for example, it became customary to drive them away with strong odors such as the heads of dry fish burning, burning wood smoke and the sound of drums. Although this custom is no longer practiced (fortunately), people still decorate the entrance of their houses with fish heads and the leaves of sacred trees to prevent evil spirits from entering.
Today, the setsubun consists of throwing beans at a person wearing a mask of oni. When you throw the beans you must scream 「鬼 は 外 福 は 内」( oni wa soto, huku wa uchi, Out the oni! Fortune come! ). Then you must collect them and eat the number of beans that corresponds to your age. It is normal to see some children dress masks oniwhile throwing beans at each other.
Several stories originate from this tradition, but perhaps one of the most famous can be seen in the kyogen which is presented at the Mibu temple in Kyoto. The plot is as follows: One day a oni he disguised himself and went to an old widow’s house. He had a magic mallet and with it he made a beautiful kimono. Temptation won over the old woman, and she looked for a way to steal it from the oni intoxicating him.
Not satisfied with the kimono, she thought she could appropriate the mallet as well. Surprised by the old woman’s greed, the oni revealed his true identity. The old woman, scared, began to throw at the oni everything nearby, including a bunch of beans. The beans did great harm to the oni, so much so that he fled through the window, leaving the old woman with the mallet.
Another celebration of setsubun implies eating nori maki, a special sushi roll. Particularly in western Japan, people steer in a lucky direction and eat sushi without saying a single word. The roll measures approximately 20 centimeters, and whoever manages to eat it without speaking is supposed to have good luck in business, it will last longer and will not suffer from diseases. In Osaka, where this tradition apparently originated, people say that this practice began when a young geisha ate it and wished to marry the person she loved the following year.