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Japanese New Year's decorations

Japan Travel Blog

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shimenawa at temple

Like the western tradition of hanging wreaths on doors for Christmas, the Japanese also decorate their doors for the New Years or Shogatsu. These decorations are usually kept up until January 15th, although around Yokosuka where I live some were taken down as early as the next day, and others kept up 'til almost February (maybe it's us Americans...). The most common decoration are sprigs of wakamatsu pine tied the the gateways around doors. The pine decoration is called kadomatsu, and there is usually a shimenawa, a sacred rope with zig-zag strips of white paper seen at shrines year-round. Many people have these, and they are only about 100yen at the store. Another common site are woven straw wreaths or shimekazari. They are displayed on or above the doors of houses and shops, with the decorations symbolizing a "wish" for the new year, such as wealth, health, success, etc.

shimekazari on store front in Kamakura
Many stores also display mochibana, which are willow branches with bits of white and pink rice cake (mochi) to symbolize the coming of spring. Traditionally, at the Girls Festival in March, the bits of dried mochi were taken down, fried and eaten like crackers. Traditionally, the New Years decorations are burned at a festival during the springtime at Shinto shrines. I also saw a couple of houses in my neighborhood decorated with blue and white twinkle lights, but not nearly as many as you would find decorated with "Christmas lights" in America. Kagamimochi, meaning "mirror cake," is seen sold at many stores. I did not know what it was when I saw it, but it consists of two mounds of mochi, or rice cake, and usually on orange with a leaf on top. The two mounds are said to symbolize the coming and going years, sun and moon, yin and yang, etc. These are also traditionally ment to be eaten the second week of January, but they sell fake plastic version as well.

So...

Kadomatsu- "gateway pine" around doors

Shimenawa- Sacred rop

Shimekazari- straw wreath

mochibana- blossoms on willow branches

kagamimochi- "mirror cake," double rice cake mound 

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shimenawa at temple
shimenawa at temple
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