Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Fortune Rolls

"Fortune Rolls"to Be Eaten on the Night of Setsubun

I bet most Japanese ate rolled sushi like these yesterday (Feb. 3rd) to celebrate Setsubun? In a nutshell, in the old days, the day of Setsubun was thought to be the official beginning of spring. And the traditional custom was throwing roasted soybeans to chase bad luck away and bring good luck into your home. They say that if you eat the same number of the roasted soybeans as your age, you'll stay healthy throughout the year.
Details here.

That was all about Setsubun, at least in this part of Shikoku Island, until 5 or 6 years ago.
I believe that it was only in certain areas in Japan where this rolled sushi was an important part of the Setsubun ritual.

In the extended version of the ritual, in addition to the soybean-throwing, you need to do the following to wish good luck for the year:
- prepare (or buy) Futomaki zushi (thick rolled sushi) but do not slice it,
- face the "lucky direction of the year" and
- close your eyes and eat the unsliced sushi in silence.

The special rolled sushi is called Eho-maki, which seems to be translated as "fortune roll" these days.  "Eho" is the lucky direction of the year, determined based on ancient Chinese astrology and Chinese zodiac. And according to this site, seven fillings are traditionally rolled in to associate the dish with the "Seven Deities of Happiness."

Some say that this was originally the custom of Kansai region. Thus, for us in Kochi prefecture, this part of the Setsubun celebration is nothing but the product of a marketing strategy. I heard that it was one of the convenience stores that started to spread this custom throughout the country. And now most supermarkets as well as convinis in Japan sell fortune rolls on Feb. 3rd. Yep. Just like Nanakusa-gayu (seven-herb rice porridge) custom and White Day have become popular here...

I'm not saying that it is bad. Perhaps many of famous Japanese traditional customs have spread in this country in similar ways, only at a slower pace in the past. Maybe it's just me that I slightly feel like a slave of conformism once in a while...

But no matter how I feel when I put a package into my shopping basket, I always enjoy the taste of the food when I eat it at home with my family. And I always end up thinking, "Well, maybe it's not totally bad as far as the custom gives something for the whole family to do together and talk about..."

Maybe that's a subvariety-conformist's thinking? ;)

...And see? We did slice the rolls before eating ... :P

I mean, how many families actually follow the traditional steps strictly as they are? Do they really close their eyes?? And eat it in silence?
Do you, REALLY???


Anonymous said...

Haha, Obachan, I love your commentary on this "tradition." It's definitely interesting to think about how traditions come to be in the first place.

obachan said...

I totally agree.
What kind of person started this tradition in the first place? And how come the people around the person thought that it was a good idea? Mmmmm... strange, and interesting. ;)


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