Setsubun is the day before the beginning of the Japanese spring (立春 Risshun). According to the ancient lunar calender this day falls on a different date each year. This year it is today, February 3rd. The main occupation on this day consists of driving away evil spirits, called oni (鬼) in Japanese. Here is an oni, painted by the Edo Artist Hokusai in ukiyo-e technique (woodblock printing):
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As you can see the oni is chased away by a hail of fukumame (福豆 fortune beans) which are basically roasted soybeans. This ritual lives on until today and apart from temples and shrines you can actually chase away evil-minded oni out of your own house all on your own. All you have to do is put an oni mask on a family member (you can download masks for example here) and then throw your beans at him. After you have successfully driven away the evil spirit (mostly the head of the family i.e. the father) and loudly shouted '鬼は外！福は内' (oni wa soto - fuku wa uchi which means 'oni out! Let the fortune in!)
you can start eating an 恵方巻 (ehou-maki which is a lucky long sushi roll). Of course you have to eat it uncut and in utter silence whilst facing in a certain direction. The direction has to be calculated anew every year
This may look complicated, but then, who says eating a sushi roll would be easy. The direction for 2012 is by the way North North-West. To be precise (after all there is no priest here to guide me) I looked up the exact position with a nice tool from this web page. Just scroll the underlying map around until you have found your position. The direction for this year is 壬.
When preparing your maki you have to adhere to some rules, too (of course, who said eating a sushi roll ... you know what I mean).
- You have to use seven ingredients, because seven is a lucky number.
- You may not cut your maki roll because you would inevitably cut off your luck for this year
First I prepared the seven fillings:
- sautéed spinach
- thinly sliced and slightly fried tofu because I couldn't get tofu aburaage
- salt massaged cucumber
- shiitake mushrooms, slightly boiled in tamari and mirin
- rice bran pickled radish (takuan)
- steamed carrots
Then I prepared the sushi rice and added 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon plum vinegar (ume-su), 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons sugar. See, I even fanned the rice to cool it down quicker once I had added the vinegar mix!
The most difficult part was rolling up the monster maki, because you have a lot of filling in it. My first roll just fell apart; but once I put on less rice and left some space in between it was much better, though not perfect. But then who said making a sushi roll would be ... you get my drift.
In case a monster would pop up while I was eating my maki in silence I kept some roasted soy beans ready (in my little blue bowl I bought in Abu Dhabi). Well, you never know ...
Not bad for my first setsubun ehou-maki. At least it tasted quite nice :)