For many centuries, Japanese have celebrated the end of winter on February 3rd by the festival of Setsubun, followed by Risshun on February 4th, which marks the beginning of spring.
Setsubun and Risshun are significant days in the the Japanese traditional almanac (Nijushi Sekki) which divides the year into 24 season-like periods, each lasting about two weeks.
February 3rd: Setsubun – End of Winter
The festival of Setsubun, marking the end of winter, is celebrated in Japan many ways. The most common custom found throughout Japan is the tradition of Mame Maki (bean throwing) to ward off spirits and welcome the arrival of spring.
During the festival, Japanese throw roasted beans around their houses and at temples and shrines, with loud shouts and chants of “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Demons out! Happiness in!”)
February 4th: Risshun – Beginning of Spring
Risshun marks the beginning of spring. In early February, though still cold in Japan, days start to get noticeably longer and it begins to feel that winter is on its way out.
Pretty plum blossoms are some of the first to open, first beginning in Southern Japanese islands and rapidly spreading northward. The early blooming cherry blossom variety called Yama-zakura (mountain cherry blossom) follows next.
Small, pretty birds called Mejiro (white eye) begin to come back and have come back. And beautiful migratory birds like cranes begin to arrive in Kyushu in large numbers.
On Risshun, unmistakable signs of the coming of the spring are everywhere!
Sensing of the Season (kisetsu-kan)
Japanese have a deep awareness of seasonality, embedded in living traditions of kisetsu-kan (sensing of the season).
These traditions mark turning of the seasons. They also serve as reminders that nature is kind and will continue to provide for us.
Kisetsu-kan traditions are manifest in all aspects of Japanese daily life, such as changing one’s wardrobe to suit the season, appreciating seasonal foods and displaying seasonal decorations is houses and offices.