...um, setsu-what? soybeans and demons? WTF are these crazy Japanese people thinking? Well, according to traditional belief, throwing dried soybeans will bring you luck for the next year. Let's check out this excerpt from the packet of beans I got today at school lunch...
Setsubun and Mamemaki
The day before the first days of spring, summer, fall and winter are called 'setsubun'. The eve of spring in particular has become known as the time of the year to drive out misfortune.That make things any clearer? So that's Setsubun. Mamemaki （豆まき） is literally 'bean scattering'. Go to each room in your house, yell out "Oni wa soto!" (demons out!) while throwing beans out of the house (use a window if there's no door in the room, ex: the bathroom). Then, turn around and do the opposite (throw the beans in), yelling "Fuku wa uchi!" (good luck inside!).
... I guess demons are afraid of beans, so they run from them? And perhaps you are intimidating the good luck, keeping it from trying to leave?? I asked the health teacher, Kuroda-sensei, but she just smiled, maybe she thought I was joking. She does recommend each room get two 'oni wa soto's, two 'fuku wa uchi's, and then a last 'oni wa soto' for good measure. However, she warns, you might not want to throw too many beans at a time, since you've gotta clean them all up. (..the ones inside the house, anyway; you can just leave the 'soto' ones there. Take that, onis.) There's no special way to clean up the beans; a vacumn cleaner is fine.
You can also go to the shrine and have Shinto priests and sometimes celebrities (local or otherwise) come and throw beans, candy, and other assorted stuff at you, for luck. I've never had the chance to participate, but I've heard there's a really fun atmosphere.
All this sound crazy? Well according to our trusty bean packet, Japanese people have done this to exorcise evil spirits since the Muromachi Period. (No, I don't know exactly when this means, but it's certainly before Edo, so think many hundreds of years ago, at least.) More from happy packet-san:
When gathering the tossed beans, it's tradition to eat as many as your age.I warn that the beans are dry and kind of nutty tasting, somewhere between peanuts and tasteless, and kinda nasty. But then, I'm not a big legume fan, so I am probably biased. (It was difficult but I did eat enough beans for my age plus one extra for luck. I was afraid there wouldn't be enough in the packet, though...) Another traditional Setsubun food is iwashi, a type of fish. You don't throw the iwashi, however. (...I'd describe the taste as we did have it for school lunch today, but they were so small they didn't really taste like anything but cold. Of course, that's school lunch.)
Unfortunately, fewer and fewer families nowadays seem to be following the tradition of mamemaki. Setsubun isn't even marked on my Japanese day planner, and half my Japanese students didn't realize it was Setsubun already... Maybe everyone is too lazy to clean up all the thrown beans??
I dunno... whether you believe in demons or no, I say you can always use a bit more good luck. I've got my beans ready...