Setsubun: Exploring the History, Meaning, and Ehomaki Tradition


The History and Origins of Setsubun

The Setsubun tradition in Japan can be traced back to the Heian period (794-1185), when it began to take shape under the influence of Chinese Taoism and the Onmyōdō (Yin-Yang philosophy). During this time, the imperial court held an annual event called “Tsuina” (expelling demons) on Setsubun, which aimed to drive away evil spirits and pray for the peace and prosperity of the nation.

The custom of throwing beans during Setsubun is believed to have spread among the common people during the Muromachi period (1336-1573). From this point on, Setsubun became an important event not only for the imperial court but also for the general public, a tradition that continues to this day.

Setsubun has evolved over time, incorporating elements from Chinese culture while blending with Japanese religious beliefs and annual events. What began as a court ceremony has transformed into a household celebration as the centuries passed.

Setsubun Customs

The term “Setsubun” originally referred to the day before the beginning of each of the four seasons (spring, summer, autumn, and winter). However, today, only February 3rd, the day before the beginning of spring, is known as Setsubun. This day coincides with the last day of the lunar calendar, a day to celebrate the arrival of spring. Setsubun is a day to drive away evil spirits and invite good fortune into the home, preparing for the new year.

The most well-known Setsubun custom is the bean-throwing ritual (mamemaki). Mamemaki is performed to ward off evil spirits and invite good fortune into the home. People throw beans to drive away evil spirits and eat the beans to bring in good luck.

On Setsubun, it is customary to eat the same number of beans as one’s age. However, this age refers to the traditional Japanese age counting system (kazoedoshi), where a person is considered one year old at birth and gains a year every January 1st. If this seems complicated, simply remember to eat your current age plus one bean.

The Origins of Ehomaki

Another famous Setsubun custom is eating Ehomaki, a long sushi roll. The tradition involves eating an entire Ehomaki in silence while facing a specific direction (Eho) on Setsubun. This custom is believed to bring good fortune. The origins of Ehomaki can be traced back to a promotional campaign by a sushi restaurant in Osaka around 1989. Initially, this custom was only practiced in the Kansai region, but it later spread nationwide as convenience stores and supermarkets began selling Ehomaki, becoming a well-established Setsubun tradition.

The Spread of Ehomaki Nationwide

The process of Ehomaki’s nationwide expansion is fascinating. In the mid-1990s, a major convenience store chain (reportedly Seven-Eleven) began actively promoting and selling Ehomaki, which triggered its nationwide popularity. This transformed a regional custom into a nationally recognized tradition. Media coverage and Ehomaki-themed events also significantly contributed to its spread. Moreover, the annually changing lucky direction (Eho) for eating Ehomaki became a topic of interest, and purchasing Ehomaki became a beloved part of the Setsubun celebration.

Determining the Lucky Direction for Ehomaki

The lucky direction for eating Ehomaki changes yearly and is related to the Chinese zodiac (Jūnishi). Eho refers to the most auspicious direction of the year, which is believed to be the direction in which the guardian deity of that year’s zodiac sign resides. This method determines a different lucky direction each year, with four primary directions: East-Northeast, West-Southwest, South-Southeast, and North-Northwest. For example, 2024 is the year of the Wood Dragon (Kinoe Tatsu), and the lucky direction for that year is “East-Northeast.”

The Lucky Direction for Ehomaki in 2024

In 2024, the lucky direction for eating Ehomaki is “East-Northeast.” By facing this direction while eating Ehomaki, people pray for health and good fortune.


Understanding the customs of Setsubun and Ehomaki allows us to rediscover the richness of Japanese traditions and culture. These events serve as a bridge between the past and present, nurturing the Japanese spirit of celebrating the changing seasons. The practice of driving away evil spirits through bean-throwing and inviting good fortune by eating Ehomaki holds significant meaning in welcoming the new season and refreshing our minds.

On Setsubun, the day that heralds the arrival of spring, let us gather with family and friends to savor Ehomaki, throw beans, and pray for hope and health in the new season!