Japanese Culture & Traditions: February


The topic of February is “SETSUBUN”


As you may already be aware, February is the coldest season of the year. Although it’s been called “RISSHUN” or “beginning of the spring”, it’s only on the calendar and welcoming “spring” as of February 4th. “SETSUBUN” is the day before “RISSHUN” (February 3) and is observed as the day when winter ends. The main event of this day is the throwing of roasted soybeans in homes and offices, to drive out any evil spirits (oni) lurking on the premises. We throw beans towards the outside and shout. “ONI WA SOTO” (Out with a devil), and throw beans towards the inside of the house and shout, “FUKU WA UCHI” (In with a luck). On this day everyone is supposed to eat as many beans as their age. Shrines or temples often hold gatherings to throw “Fuku-mame” (lucky beans) or “Fuku-mochi” (lucky rice cakes) over the assembled throngs. Catching and eating these beans and cakes from famous sumo-wrestlers or actors is thought to bring good luck. This tradition is something like Halloween in the U.S.

We do have St. Valentine’s Day too, in Japan. However, unlike the U.S., only girls are supposed to give chocolate to boys on this day. It is not for sure who started this custom, but young couples believe that girls can say “I love you” or express their intentions clearly such as “I want to marry you” to their boyfriends only once a year on this specific day. In return, boys are supposed to give a present of white chocolate or some nicer presents to their girlfriends on March 14, one month later, which we call “White Day”.