As soon as we recover from western holiday festivities, it’s time to get ready for the Japanese New Year. Wreaths are replaced with shime kazari, Christmas trees with stacks of mochi. Here are a few tips:
Shime kazari (or shime nawa) are decorations put up at entrances to greet the gods for the New Years. Variations differ according to region. They may be a simple string with white paper strips, or fancier decorated wreaths. Often they use straw from the last rice harvest, and have a mikan or nanten berries for decoration.
If you don’t make your own or receive them from your neighborhood association, you can purchase your shime kazari at your local florist, home center or even supermarket. Don’t forget to get one for your car!
Shime Kazari for your car.
Some homes put up a pair of kado matsu, which are towers of shochikubai (pine, bamboo, plum). The bamboo are cut at a slant as it looks like a laughing face. [see first image]
Indoors, put up your kagami mochi (mirror mochi rice), an offering to the gods. Two round slabs of mochi, to symbolize the god’s bronze mirrors, are stacked and topped with an orange mikan. Older neighborhoods may have a mochi tsuki kai (mochi pounding party) to make kagami mochi for every home, or you can purchase your kagami mochi at your local supermarket or daiso.
Kagami Mochi topped with a mikan (Japanese tangerine)
For extra luck, purchase your decorations on a Dai An (lucky day). Check the calendar you got from your newspaper guy for this year’s Dai An. There are lucky days for putting up your decorations. The 28th is lucky because the Kanji for 8 八 is spread open at the bottom and lets luck in. The 30th is also lucky as it can be divided into two, however, in the old Japanese calendar, December ended on the 30th, so it may be considered unlucky in some regions.
The 29th, pronounced nijuku (meaning double burden) is unlucky. So is the 31st called Ichiya Kazari. This means that the decorations were put up for only one night, and is not considered lucky as the gods won’t feel that you put any effort into preparing for them.
After New Year’s celebrations have ended, it’s time to properly dispose of your decorations.
First your shime kazari. Local shrines will have a Donto Yaki on the 15th. This is a large bonfire. Shime kazari as well as old omamori amulets are burned in this fire. Eating dango (rice balls) or omochi roasted over this bonfire is said to ward off illness for a year.
Donto Yaki Bonfire
Kagami biraki (opening of the mirror) is held around the 11th. The slabs of mochi should be dry and cracking by this time, unless you have a modern kagami mochi wrapped in plastic or containing individually wrapped pieces of mochi. Break the mochi into pieces and cook them before eating. It is unlucky to use a knife to cut your mochi here.
I recommend the book Kodomo Saijiki 12 kagetsu (children’s almanac) for brief explanations on Japanese holidays, traditions and foods.
Floral Decor handmade by Floral Nature and Arts Club Wreath made from fresh leaves, flowers, berries and vines accented with handmade horse ornament, gold/white string and red and gold fan.
Sarah is a long-time resident born and raised in Japan, raising her children, translating and making soy candles on the side. She loves the beach, paddle boarding, moutain lakes and Japanese beer.
workaholic SAHM with a possible touch of ADD.
Favorite question: Free time? What's that??
Days are spent: raising 4 children, teaching part time, developing a jewelry business (http://facebook.com/offonawhim), and following the lives of the KA Moms! Cooking, cleaning and shopping are all secondary.