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Setsubun at Sensoji | Time Out Tokyo

Setsubun in Tokyo

The February 3 Setsubun festival is not just a bean-throwing affair but also one to cleanse away evil spirits. Join in the festivities at these temples in Tokyo

By Time Out Tokyo Editors

While the chilly temperature and common sense may suggest otherwise, February 3 traditionally marks the start of spring in Japan. Known as Setsubun (literally ‘seasonal division’), the day is marked with a spiritual kind of spring cleaning. Its most famous ritual is mamemaki, in which people drive evil spirits from their homes by throwing soybeans out the door (or at a family member dressed as a demon) and shouting Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! (Demons out! Good luck in!).

The ritual is repeated on a larger scale at many temples and shrines around town, usually with a sizeable celebrity contingent on hand to scatter that soy. It’s then customary to eat a fat roll of makizushi while facing in the year’s lucky direction – hence the dish’s name, eho-maki (‘lucky direction roll’). These rolls are sold at pretty much every supermarket and convenience store out there. Interested? Here’s where you can throw some beans.

Get rid of evil spirits here

Sensoji Temple

Attractions Religious buildings and sites Asakusa

If you want to trace the origins of all this legume-throwing, this is where to start: Sensoji was the first place in Japan to hold a large-scale Setsubun ceremony, bringing mass-market appeal to a ritual that had been practised since the Heian era. Around 10,000 people turn up each year to watch celebrities lob handfuls of soybeans in the afternoon. From 2.30pm

Tokyo Tower

Attractions Sightseeing Shiba-Koen

One of the more bizarre spectacles you’ll see on Setsubun takes place in the morning on the 150m-high observatory deck of Tokyo’s cherished orange-and-white mast. Here, a priest from neighbouring Zojoji is joined by the tower’s cone-headed Noppon mascots in a quick spot of bean-throwing. From 10.45am


Suitengu Shrine

Attractions Religious buildings and sites Ningyocho

While many of Tokyo’s shrines and temples let members of the public take part in the bean-throwing, Suitengu is one of the few that doesn’t overcharge you for the privilege (¥5,000 for adults, ¥2,000 for children). The ceremonies are interspersed with performances of traditional kagura dance and kamishibai storytelling. From 2.30pm

Zojoji Temple

Attractions Religious buildings and sites Shiba-Koen

Zojoji's bean-throwing festival sees a colourful bunch of celebrities born in the ongoing year of the Chinese zodiac fling soy beans over the assembled masses. Head over to ensure good health and fortune for the year to come, and take the opportunity to pick up a new omamori charm at the temple stalls. From 12.20pm


Tengu Festival (Shimokitazawa)

Things to do Shimokitazawa

Shimokitazawa is home to one of Tokyo’s most novel local variations on Setsubun. There’ll be plenty of bean-throwing going on, but that isn’t the highlight of this festival. Rather, it’s the afternoon parade, in which a giant, bright red tengu head is carried through the streets, accompanied by children in goblin masks. This event takes already place on February 2 from 1.30pm

Kanda Shrine

Attractions Religious buildings and sites Suehirocho

Priests in traditional dress emerge from the shrine's ceremonial hall at around 2pm, followed by a bunch of bean-throwers all born in previous Years of the Pig (the Chinese zodiac animal for 2019). Finally, the red-and blue-faced demons charge onto the scene. From 2pm


Ikegami Honmonji

Attractions Religious buildings and sites Ikegami

Seeing around 10,000 visitors for Setsubun every year, Honmonji is famed for welcoming athletes (from pro wrestlers to golfers) to take care of the bean-throwing. Things get underway at 1pm, but the actual bean-throwing ceremony doesn't start until 3pm.

Hie Shrine

Attractions Religious buildings and sites Tameike-Sanno

Always a popular one with tourists, Hie Shrine's ceremony is a real spectacle, from the kagura performances to the entrance parade of the bean-throwers (another chance to spot various celebrities) and the open lottery featuring all kinds of fun prizes. From 11.30am


Yoyogi Hachimangu

Attractions Religious buildings and sites Yoyogi-Hachiman

Although the actual bean-throwing at Yoyogi's main shrine is nothing out of the ordinary, the mochi-bashing on February 1, put on by the Yoyogi Mochitsuki Preservation Society, makes this one worth a look. Bean-throwing from 3.30pm on February 3.


Attractions Religious buildings and sites Nakano-Sakaue

Another Setsubun event where the beans are of secondary importance, Nakano temple Hosenji's ceremony is best known for the 'fighting monk' parade, in which 100 men dress up as feudal-era sohei and march along the Ome Kaido from nearby Meitoku Inari Shrine to Hosenji. The parade gets moving from 3.30pm, while beans are thrown from 4.30pm.

While you're at the temples...

More on the shrines and temples of Tokyo


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