Demon cutouts, bags of beans and rolls of sushi are appearing on the shelves of convenience stores—but what is it all about? It’s Setsubun time, and with that comes a plethora of events around town, as well as some unique goods and foods.

February 3 marks the yearly Setsubun celebration, which is a bean-throwing festival, put simply. Setsubun is the day before spring officially starts in Japan (surprisingly, despite the chills and heavy use of heating), and the word literally relates to the division of seasons.

At shrines and temples across Japan, people throw roasted soybeans to drive away evil spirits and misfortune, in a ritual dubbed mamekaki. Traditionally, beans were thrown at a family member who wore an oni (demon) mask, as they stood outside the house door. As they threw the beans, they would chant Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! (Out with the Demon! In with Fortune!) and slam the door. Sounds pretty brutal, doesn’t it…  However, these days people tend to head to local shrines for most of the rituals, avoiding spilled beans on the kitchen floor.

Makizushi—big, uncut sushi rolls—are also eaten on this day, as you face the lucky compass direction that is related to the current zodiac year (look around you to see what other people are doing, but you’re probably OK if you face any direction you like…), and washed down with ginger sake. Phew! If you want to participate in the festivities, you can watch a parade featuring a giant tengu (a supernatural creature with a long nose and red face) and people dressed up as the mythical, mischievous character. You can also throw beans yourself if you wish to chase away bad luck… Happy Setsubun!

—Vivian Morelli