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Lift Up February Gloom – Genius of Seasonal Marketing


3rd of February in Japanese calendar is “SETSUBUN”.  It is a day before the beginning of the spring, Risshun, usually around 4th February.  Japanese people traditionally considered the spring to be very important.  It is after all beginning of a new cycle, new life. 

Throwing Roasted Beans

A lot of people associate Setsubun with throwing roasted beans at legendary demons (Oni).  These demons, usually dressed up fathers, try to enter the house, and the children threw the beans to drive them out of the house. 

The stores sell a lot of special roasted beans, together with costumes and masks of Oni demons for this little family annual event.  Stores put a lot of posters at the shop fronts, nation-wide media campaigns, coupled with in-store promotions.

But there has been a rise of another tradition in the last 20 years.

Lucky Direction Sushi Roll

The new tradition is Ehou Maki, Lucky Direction Sushi Roll.  It is said that eating whole Sushi roll in one go in silence, facing the year’s lucky direction, will bring health and prosperity for the new year’s cycle.

For 2017 it was North North West

It was more known in the western part of Japan, relatively localised tradition.  Also, as it turns out that it is not very old, but seems that it started early part of 20th century.

Win-Win Marketing Campaign

There is a copy of flier from 1932 to promote this tradition, distributed by Association of Osaka Sushi Merchant.  February is not a very busy time of the year for Sushi industry, so they used this vaguely traditional custom for the promotion.  In the 1970s, Osaka Nori Merchant associations used to promote their Nori sheets, used for Sushi rolls.  Again, the motive must be same as 40 years earlier.  But the big boost came in 1998. 

The biggest chain of the convenience stores launched a nationwide promotion for Ehou Maki.  Up until then, there was no specific name to this customs either.  For many people, especially east and northern part, it was new and mysterious customs.  But this very positively re-branded sushi has caught a lot of attention and general media coverage to discover its history.  Also with the versatility of Sushi roll, merchants adopted the recipe to promote the local ingredients. 

It certainly grabbed the attention of homemakers who can dish out sushi on 3rd February because of the tradition.  It also presented a great alternative to bean throwing.  You don’t have to about cleaning up.  It Twas a win-win situation for everyone.

Twenty Years on – The New Cycle

However, recently, there has been a lot of reports that the sales are slowing down and some stores assign sales targets to shop attendants, a lot of times part-time students.  With the negative media coverage starting to emerge after 20 years, it may be time for another marketing genius to stimulate relatively slow February trade.

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