This Annual Japanese Tradition Has People Dressing Up As Demons

It's a sight to see!

Every third of February, even in the middle of a cold winter, Japanese people dress up as demons and get beans thrown at them. This is a ritual done on the traditional day called
setsubun and is done to drive bad luck out and bring good luck in. On this day, aside from reenacting the cleansing scene, locals also eat an eho-maki, a kind of rolled sushi, for good luck. Legend has it that eating an eho-maki silently in the year’s direction of good luck will make your wishes come true.

Setsubun might seem crazy, but the continued practice of this tradition is a testament to Japan’s culture, a modern society still deeply rooted in the past. The custom started in Osaka and became a national custom sometime between the Edo and Meiji period. This was a time of division and poverty, when the custom of eating rolled sushi with egg,
kampyo (dried gourd shavings), shiitake mushrooms, and koya-tofu was deemed a luxury. Japanese people of the past ate this as a reward for themselves after working hard for a year.

The sushi is rolled because it is believed that good luck is also rolled within the sushi. Its long and slender shape is thought to bring fortune as well. The
eho-maki should be eaten whole, because it is believed that cutting it with a knife cuts the good luck as well.

During this time, a ritual called
mame-maki is also observed. This is when someone acts as a devil, while people throw soy beans at them chanting, “Fuku wa uchi, oni wa soto,” which roughly translates to “good luck [comes] in, devil goes out.” This act is believed to bring good luck for a whole year. Mame-maki is mostly celebrated at home with the family, but it is also celebrated in schools or public places, such as shopping centers or shrines. 

A ehomaki balloon decorates the stage

Nori Charity Sale 

During the last
setsubun season, a charity sale organized by the Osaka Nori Cooperative Association was held at Osaka Tenmangu Shrine. At the event, high-quality seaweed was sold at a more affordable price. The organizers also gave out free eho-maki to the first 1,000 visitors.

1000 people receiving their eho-maki after waiting at a long line

Over 1,600 people lined up, with the earliest forming a queue an hour and a half in advance for a chance to receive the blessed
eho-maki. The lucky visitors were then gathered to receive a blessing from the shrine priests. After which, they ate the eho-maki silently together, facing the lucky direction. The eho-maki length at the event was 20 centimeters. It was a feat to finish this hearty dish, so if you have the chance to experience it yourself, make sure to come on an empty stomach.


A thousand visitors eating eho-maki silently together is definitely a sight to be seen.

This cultural experience is still flourishing in Japan—all the more reason to stop what we’re doing, grab our bags, and experience something out of the ordinary in Japan. There is beauty in keeping tradition alive.

Main photo courtesy of iStock.

Provided by Karaksa Media Partner (28 February 2019)

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