“Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (Devils out! Fortune in!)
When walking through the streets of Japan in early February, travelers may hear such chants coming from homes and shrines. This is a ritual that is part of Setsubun, a traditional Japanese holiday that aims to drive away the previous year’s evil spirits and wish for good health. People drive away these spirits by throwing roasted soybeans, known as fukumame, either out the door of one’s home or at someone dressed as a demon. Travelers can join in the Setsubun festivities by visiting shrines that perform this ritual. However at one shrine in Hyogo, called Nagata Shrine, this ritual is a bit different.
"Good" Demons at Nagata Shrine
Nicknamed "Nagata-san" by Kobe locals, Nagata Shrine enshrines a deity that is famous for bringing good fortune to businesses. During Setsubun, while other shrines drive away demons, visitors to Nagata Shrine welcome them. Long-time supporters of Nagata Shrine wear
ancient wooden demon masks. Carrying swords, the demons perform a pantomime dance in front of the shrine, striking various poses and swaying fiery torches. The flames of the torches are said to burn away all evil, as the swords are meant cut it. This ceremony has deep historical roots and is designated as an intangible cultural heritage event.
New Delicious Traditions
Another practice of Setsubun is the consuming of uncut sushi rolls known as ehōmaki (meaning “lucky direction roll”). This tradition began in the Kansai region, but has since spread to all over Japan. The ehōmaki are eaten in the year’s lucky direction as determined by the zodiac symbol of that year. The lucky direction for 2023 is south southeast. This unique custom also involves eating the ehōmaki in silence. These delicious rolls can be found in convenience stores and supermarkets during this time of year.
Setsubun is followed the day after by Risshun, which signifies the beginning of spring. These two days make up Japan’s haru matsuri, or spring festival. So while cherry blossoms may signify the beginning of spring for many, we encourage travelers to experience Japan’s traditional start of spring with Setsubun.
Hyogo Prefecture is easily reachable from Osaka and Kyoto by JR train. The Hyogo Tourism Bureau provides more detailed information about traveling to and within the prefecture.
Please email us at email@example.com if you have any questions about Hyogo Prefecture or the Kansai region.