Mamemaki: A Setsubun Bean-Throwing Tradition

IMG_8690, mamemaki

Mamemaki // photo by Hetari Mumuriku

One of the most iconic rituals of Japanese Setsubun (celebrated in February) is mamemaki, or “bean throwing.” The mamemaki ritual was brought from China to Japan some centuries ago. It is said that soy beans are used because they were an important crop in Manchuria and were then imported to Japan. The soy beans must be dried — no raw beans!

How to Do Mamemaki

On the night of Setsubun, men and women born in the same Chinese zodiac as the new year (in the case of 2013, the snake) throw dried soy beans at people dressed as “oni” (Japanese ogres), either at temples/shrines or in their homes. While they do this, they chant, “Fuku wa uchi, oni was soto.” This basically means: “good luck in, evil (oni) out.” Depending on the region, there are several variations on this phrase, such as “Good luck in, oni in, too,” or simply, “Good luck in.” Also depending on the region, peanuts are sometimes used instead of dried soy beans.

A typical way to ward off evil inside the home on Setsubun is to first open the window at the furthest side of the house. Then, say “oni wa soto.” Afterwards, close window quickly and say “fuku wa uchi” while throwing the beans underhand. Do this with all the windows inside the house in order finally ending at the entrance. The correct way to hold the box with the beans in it is to hold it to your chest. This is said to bring good crops and drive the oni (evil) out of your heart. Some people also put beans wrapped in white paper in the family Shinto shrine or somewhere higher than the line of sight.

About the Mamemaki Oni

The oni are said to come from the northeast, which is an unlucky direction that also is home to “Oni Gate,” between two and four in the morning. This is why the ritual is typically done at night. Additionally, even if no one dresses up as an oni, people will often throw beans around the northeast section of their home.

Setsubun beans

Dried Soybeans // photo by ranpie

What is the Significance of Bean-Throwing?

The bean throwing ritual is associated with one of the seven gods of good fortune. Bishamonten, the warrior god, is said to have thrown 600 liters of soy beans to drive off an oni that had been terrorizing Kyoto. “Mame,” the word for “beans” in Japanese, can also be seen as something of a play on words. This word can also mean “evil eyes,” referring to the oni’s eyes, and “evil’s destruction,” referring to driving away the oni.

Other Mamemaki Traditions

After the mamemaki, another ritual is often done. It is said that if you eat the same number of beans as your age, then sickness will be warded away for one year.

Of course, this poses a problem for people gaining in years. Who wants to eat 60 beans? If the beans are just too many to eat, it is perfectly acceptable to drink fukucha, which is a “lucky tea” made from sea tangle, black soybeans, pepper, pickled plums, and so on, and is drunk on festive occasions.

Mamemaki YouTube Video

If you’re looking for some setsubun bean-throwing action, see this mamemaki YouTube video. The actual bean-throwing starts around 2:47. Interestingly, a lot of mamemaki videos on YouTube seem to feature children cowering in fear of the ogres rather than throwing beans. Elementary school is a rough time.

Have you ever participated in mamemaki or eaten dried soy beans?


Setsubun Introduction


Setsubunsai – Asakusa Otorisama Homepage
Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! Setsubun tokushuu – Oshiete! goo
Yakuyoke, Setsubun | Setsubun no kiso chishiki ya oni no omoto no tsukurikata – All About
Setsubun, Mamemaki, Ehoumaki 2013
Denroku – Yakudatsu jouhou: Setsubun

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