Let’s talk about Se-tsu-bun

setsubun oni mask nakatsu japan

Ok, this post is pretty belated, but it’s important that I tell you about Setsubun, a Japanese holiday whose good-luck customs are as follows:

1) Face a specific cardinal direction and eat an ehō-maki (lucky sushi roll) in total silence.
2) Throw beans at an oni.

Setsubun was on February 3, and our friend Zack hosted a party. We sat on the tatami in a candlelit room, faced south-south-west, this year’s lucky direction, and gobbled our big tonkatsu maki. I just let it all wash over me—the hum of Zack’s kerosene heater, the light smacking of mouths, the occasional suppressed giggle. The atmosphere rested somewhere between meditative and awkward family dinner.

setsubun maki nakatsu japan

Next, we took turns donning oni masks and dancing around while the others threw beans at us. The bean-throwing, called mamemaki, is meant to drive away disease-carrying evil spirits. It’s usually performed in the home; Zack wasn’t really keen on cleaning up that many soybeans, so we took it outside. Our senpai Casey taught us the traditional Setsubun chant:

鬼は外! 福は内! (Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi!) meaning “Demons out! Luck in!

setsbun mamemaki nakatsu japan

We wrapped up the night with a little more sake and a game where someone thinks of a superpower, and everyone else counters with its fatal flaws—You have big wings. BUT the wings are made of dicks. You can run at light speed. BUT every time you do it you fart.

I think it’s gonna be a good year.

setsubun nakatsu japan sake


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