Setsubun Customs: Hiiragi Iwashi (Holly and Sardine Head) 柊鰯
On February 3, Setsubun, the eve of the beginning of spring, it is essential eat maki-zushi, throw beans out your front door, eat sardines, impale a sardine head on holly and place it near your front door to ensure a healthy and prosperous new year. Notice, everything involves food!
Hiiragi Iwashi, literally ‘holly sardine’ is a cooked sardine head impaled on a holly branch. The hiiragi iwashi is attached to the exterior of the house, usually next to the front door.
Demons, which bring illness and poverty are said to dislike the strong smell of sardines and they fear getting their eyes poked by the sharp points on holly leaves. So, if you combine the two, you have a powerful weapon, a double wammy that demons are just no march for. If this talisman is on your house at the coming of spring, demons won’t come in your house and get your year off to a bad start.
Hiiragi Iwashi On Guard at the Front Door
The hiiragi iwashi is not a very common sight in Kyoto, I am not sure if I have even seen one in Kyoto. In near-by Nara, it is very common. I remember when I first came to Japan, long before I knew much about Setsubun and before I had ever heard of hiiragi iwashi, I was sightseeing in Nara and it happened to be Setsubun. I remember walking around the old town (Nara-machi) and seeing fish heads on twigs nailed to nearly every house. I kept asking my friend what was with it but she didn’t know exactly.
Well, this year Miwa and I decided to do hiiragi iwashi in Kyoto! It was pretty fun. We bought some big, fat sardines at Fuji Daimaru Department Store and asked the dude at the fish stall for some holly, being used for decoration which he kindly gave us.
Back home, we grilled the sardines and ate them, knowing that those naughty demons would not be able to deal with the smell of our tasty meal. We used one of the heads to make the talisman, and put it up well before midnight.
We are expecting an extra happy, healthy and prosperous year now!
We think that last year’s KyotoFoodie Setsubun: The Day Before Spring, Demons, How to Eat Eho-Maki and Throw Your Beans article is great too!
KyotoFoodie Setsubun Articles
Setsubun Ehomaki, Mame-maki and Grilled Sardine
Setsubun Customs: Hiiragi Iwashi (Holly and Sardine Head) (this one)
(2008) Setsubun: The Day Before Spring, Demons, How to Eat Eho-Maki and Throw Your Beans