The most Japanese event in February is Setsubun. To be frank, I hadn’t plan on doing something special or going to a specific event. But, when I was leaving Gokokuin last week after visiting, an obaasan called and highly recommended I came back for Setsubun and avoid Asakusa at all cost (too crowded).
Of course, I came back. I escaped early from the office and left for Nezu.
And as always, it’s better to trust obbasans.
Many things have been written on Setsubun. Throwing beans on demons to bring luck. 鬼は外、福は内. You know…
But that’s not the whole story. The main event today is Rishun, the beginning of Spring (and also an synonym for February). Historically, Setsubun was only one of the element of Rishun and was there was one Setsubun at each change of season.
Throwing beans was initially disconnected from Setsubun. It was a ritual to ward off the plague or illness. Actually, his ritual came from China at the same time as Buddhism and was mixed with the demon lore and a purification ritual then done for the new season.
What about Ehoumaki?
As for the second February staple, it’s the Ehoumaki. Which gained its fame thanks to 7-Eleven and not tradition or culture.
Ehoumaki was ermerged in Osaka at the end of the Meiji Era as a component of the Sushi and Fishmonger association annual banquet hold the day before Setsubun (speak about a widespread custom). In Osaka red light districts (Hanamachi), a similar maki called Shinshun maki (new spring roll) existed.
Then, until 1955, no mention of a spécific direction toward which you should eat the maki. It was a marketing campaign for nori that this element was added.
In 1970, medias started taking note of the Ehoumaki and it starts spreading beyond its limited circle. To become available in … all Osaka in the 1970s.
At the end of the 80s, Family Mart takes the Ehoumaki to new horizons : all of Osaka and the Hyogo Prefecture ! A 7-eleven franchisee took notice in 1989 and offered the maki in all his stores, down to Hiroshima.
From there, the central management of 7-Eleven decided to slowly spread the Ehoumaki in the whole country until completion in 1998.
Another thousand-year-old tradition that is, at most, 50 years old.