Kitchen Culture

tasty tidbits from the old-fashioned Japanese Kitchen



Setsubun, a marker on the ancient, lunar-based koyomi calendar indicates the start of a new season; setsubun breaks occur many times during the year. Today in Japan the setsubun that is most celebrated is on February 3, and it corresponds to the start of the lunar New Year. In other parts of Asia, China for example, this break is celebrated as New Years. But in Japan since the switch to using the Gregorian calendar in the Meiji period, Setsubun is quite apart from Osōgatsu (New Year activities, which come to a close in mid-January).

Setsubun rituals developed to insure that evil was left behind in the old year, and good things could (and would) happen in the year to come. Oni monsters personify bad things and are traditionally expelled by shouting and throwing dry-roasted soybeans. Throughout Japan, school children make monster masks they don while they yell:

Stand at the entrance to your school, home or office while yelling ONI WA SOTO (throw the ogres out!) and throwing beans OUT. Turn around and throw beans over your shoulder INDOORS.

FUKU WA UCHI (bring in good fortune!) Eat the same number of beans as your age (thankfully, the older I get, the more I like roasted soybeans!)

Foods associated with Setsubun include simmered dried beans and assorted vegetables (a dish called gomoku mamé ni, below right), plump sushi rolls called éhō maki (gobbled, uncut, while facing the "auspicious" direction: this year (2016) its nan nan tō or south by south-east), and sardine soup dumplings called tsumiré-jiru (left).


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