Today is Setsubun(season division) – every year this day marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. To cleanse evil and prepare for the year ahead, a special ritual called mamemaki(bean throwing) is performed. These days, many people do this at a shrine, but it’s also very easy to pick up beans and masks for cheap to celebrate at home!
First off, someone needs to be designated as the Oni(demon) – this is usually a man whose birth year is the same zodiac symbol as is current, otherwise the male head of the household takes the part. Next, everyone else pelts the demon with roasted soybeans while chanting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” – “Demons out! Luck in!”
Afterwards, to bring luck in you should eat roasted soybeans, to a number equaling your age – plus one extra to bring luck for this year. My masks came with peanuts and goshikimame so I guess they’re ok too 🙂
Here in Kansai, it’s also traditional to enjoy a thick futomaki sushi roll on Setsubun. It’s to be eaten in silence while facing in a specific direction denoted by the Zodiac symbol of the year – for 2013 the direction is south-southeast.