Setsubun at Zojoji Temple in 2023

Zojoji priest leading Setsubun parade
Zojoji's priests entering to start the ceremony.

Setsubun is popular in Japan. It comes in February. And guess what?  I’ve been here for thirty years and have never done it. Are you shocked? I’m sure is. But it’s true. But this year, the stars aligned. I had a day off and Zojoji temple would celebrate it. That’s where I went. By the way, do you know what this festival is about?

What is Setsubun?

Setsubun (節分) is a festival that marks the day before the beginning of spring in Japan’s old calendar. Its rituals drive away the previous year’s bad fortunes and evil spirits. For most people that means mamemaki. And that means fun!

people throwing Setsubun beans

What is mamemaki?

The main ritual associated with Setsubun is mamemaki. It means bean scattering and is a lot of fun. At home, people throw roasted soybeans (fortune beans) out the front door. Then they shout shout “Devils out! Fortune in!” (Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!).

Zojoji musicians

The beans are thought to purify the home. They drive away evil spirits and bad health. If you eat them, eat one for each year of your life (plus one more!). Sound good right? It is, but it gets better because you can also do it in public at some temples and shrines.

Zojoji mochi making
Mochi making.

What happened at Sensoji’s Setsubun?

I’m not sure, to be honest! It was my first time there to photograph it. What the format would be, I had no idea. I just concentrated on my camera and tried to get some usable photos. There was commentary, but I didn’t have time to listen to it.

people throwing mochi

But there was a parade. The priests of Zojoji led a long line of people. There were kids from a kindergarten and some dogs. If you were there, maybe you could fill me in on it?

Zojoji setsubun distinguished guests

Once the event started, people on stage threw manju and beans into the crowd. People went crazy trying to catch them. Some even took big bags hoping to scoop more.

women throwing mochi

The stage event went five times.  Once one group finished, they were ushered off to the side.  Then another would be brought up the steps.  I wish I could have seen them all.

Well, it took me thirty years to see Setsubun, but it was worth it. It’s a nice enjoyable family event. Other temples and shrines in Tokyo hold it so next year I might go elsewhere. If you have any questions or comments, leave them below.

Zojoji temple setsubun crowd

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