Japan has a culture that remembers traditional eating habits and stories associated with food each season, as symbolized by toshikoshi-soba (passing-of-the-year buckwheat noodle) served on New Year's Eve each year, and osechi ryori, a special assortment of traditional food for the New Year.
February 3rd is the day before the beginning of spring in Japan, which is called Rishhun. February 3 is called Setsubun, which is also known as a bean throwing (mamemaki) festival in Japan. People throw roasted soybeans around houses and out the door, and at temples and shrines to drive off bad luck and to bring good luck in. While throwing they shout “demons get out, luck come in,”. It's a custom to eat the same number of beans as one's age, hoping for good health and happiness.
Eho-Maki - The Staple of Setsubun Joy
Eho-maki (fortune rolls) are futo-maki (thick sushi rolls) eaten on the night of Setsubun. Ehou-maki is the staple of Setsubun joy and is a tradition that is said to have long been handed down mainly in the Kansai area. In recent years, this sushi roll is popular not just in Kansai but throughout all of Japan and the number of people making their own ehomaki from their favorite recipes is increasing.
7 Ingredients for the 7 Gods of Fortune
It is also said to be good luck to use seven ingredients to prepare ehomaki, in sync with the seven gods of fortune in Japanese folklore. Apparently, good luck will come about by rolling the ingredients into the sushi. It is also served whole, without cutting into pieces, so that “relationships are not cut off.”
To be related to the Seven Deities of Good Fortune called Shichifukujin, seven fillings are traditionally rolled in a sushi roll. For example, simmered shiitake mushrooms and kanpyo (dried gourd), cucumber, rolled omelet (tamagoyaki), eels, sakura denbu (sweet fish powder), and seasoned koyadofu (freeze-dried tofu) are used. These ingredients represent good health, happiness, and prosperity, and rolling the fillings means good fortune.
Other potential ingredients include roast beef, thick omelet, cooked sansho (Japanese pepper), smoked scallops, seared spear squid, spiced cod roe, and cooked shiitake mushrooms.
Usually, sushi rolls are sliced into bite-sized pieces. But fortune rolls aren't sliced since slicing indicates cutting good fortune. When eating fortune rolls, people face toward the good fortune direction of the year (eho) and make wishes. The good fortune direction is specified for each year according to the way of ying and yang, the esoteric cosmology based on ancient Chinese philosophy where good and bad luck for that particular year is interpreted by observing natural phenomena.
Tradition states that you have to eat the sushi roll uncut, in one continuous go, in complete silence. It gives you time to contemplate your thoughts, or at the very least, quiet down the noise of modern life. The only sound you will hear is the happy munch, munch, of sushi rolls - a few moments of peaceful contemplation.