Setsubun, Watershed of the Seasons
In the Japanese traditional calendar, February 3rd is Setsubun, the day before Risshun, the first day of spring.
Setsubun is literally the day that divides two seasons. That means there used be a Setsubun at the end of all four seasons. The spring was the beginning of a year in the old calendar, and the Setsubun of this season that commemorated the biggest shift of the year is still celebrated.
The most common Setsubun activity is Mamemaki, or ‘bean throwing.’ There was an ancient event to chase away epidemics and evil spirits on the day before the New Year’s Day. As time went by, people started throwing beans for the purpose of chasing away evil. The word mame (bean) is made up of the sounds “ma” (the devil) and “me” (to destroy), and therefore the legumes were believed to have the power to remove negative vibrations.
The custom of eating as many beans as the person’s age makes sense if you consider that this day used to be New Year’s Eve. This practice is the remnant of the days when everyone turned a year older as they celebrated the arrival of Toshigami-sama, the god of the year.