With freezing temperatures in Tokyo, and even some snow just a few days ago, it's hard to believe that the first day of spring is just around the corner.
But, February 3 is Setsubun (seasonal division). In its association with Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year) Setsubun used to be thought of as a type of New Year's eve. This was accompanied by a special ritual to cleanse away all the evil - clean out the bad spirits of the old year - and drive away disease-bringing bad spirits for the new year
This special ritual is called mamemaki, which means bean throwing (maki can also mean scatter or plant, but in this case the beans are thrown).
If you want to keep it really traditional the bean throwing should be performed by the toshiotoko of the house. The toshiotoko is the male who was born on the corresponding animal year on the Chinese Zodiac (this year is the year of the dragon), or if there is no toshiotoko the male head of the household can throw the beans. The best beans to use are roasted soybeans, known as "fortune beans (fuku mame). These can be purchased in many stores. The beans are usually thrown out the door, but they may also be thrown at a member of the family wearing a demon mask (also available in a variety of stores, temples, or shrines), while the people throwing the beans say "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa Uchi!" (Demons out! Good luck in!)
[Oni (Demon) Mask]
The beans are supposed to do a purification of the home by driving away the demons (the evil spirits) that bring bad luck and bad health. After throwing the beans many people eat roasted soy beans; one for each year of one's life, and one more for bringing good luck for the new year.
Some shrines and temples will have Setsubun ceremonies too where priests and special guests will throw roasted soy beans (some may even be wrapped in gold or silver foil), or small envelopes with money, candies and other small prizes. Some of the bigger shrines might invite celebrities and/or sumo wrestlers. Check a shrine or temple near you to see if any Setsubun ceremony is going on - it's another good Japan photo opportunity.