Setsubun in Kyoto

4 02 2010

Yesterday was Setsubun – the bean throwing festival – marking the end of winter and the beginning of spring in the old Japanese lunar calendar. Traditionally, the season change was celebrated as a kind of new year ritual. In Kyoto, people often liken  Setsubun to Halloween because of the number of demons and spirits flying around, and the propensity some geiko have for cosplay during the festival!

At Setsubun, whilst yelling “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!/Demons out! Good luck in!”, people throw soybeans out the front door for good luck in the coming year. In Kansai, massive sushi rolls of maki-zushi called eho-maki (lucky direction rolls) are eaten. The idea is that you chew on your maki roll facing the lucky direction of the Chinese zodiac year. This year we scoffed ours facing the auspicious Tiger direction – west-south-west.

However, for Setsubun 2010 we delicately bit into Italian eho-maki. As we were heading to the Setsubun bonfire at Yoshida Jinja, we called into the nearby Caffe Dell’ Orso for some organic Italian cuisine. Owner Stefano Bandini proffered up the evening’s special – a delicious mix of olives, tuna, tomatoes, pesto and cucumber in a baguette shell.

Then we headed back out into the bone-seeping cold to see the lighting of the bonfire at Yoshida Jinja. a shrine in Eastern Kyoto. The bonfire consists of amulets and charms that have been left at the shrine by worshippers over the year.

The fire is lit right on 9pm and it’s quite a mesmerising sight to watch all those hopes, dreams and wishes go up in flames.




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