Symbols for Japanese New Year

Japanese New Year (oshōgatsu お正月) has come and gone, and we’re now in the year 2020, but I took a photos around the house to show the kinds of symbols and accoutrements you’ll see this time of year.

The first one is a kadomatsu (門松):


This display, combines bamboo (竹), pine (松) and plum blossoms (梅) which are all auspicious plants into a single ornament.  Similar to a Christmas wreath, it is usually displayed near the front entrance of the house, and is thought to “invite” good luck into the home for the rest of the year.  More specifically, it is thought to invite auspicious kami (Shinto deities) into the home who by their presence bless the home with good fortune and avoidance of calamity.

Another symbol is a kagami-mochi (鏡餅) or “mirror-mochi“:


This is a basic one we bought at the local Asian supermarket, but consists of a small platform and two mochi rice-cakes piled onto one another with an orange above.  In our display, the mochi is actually hidden inside a plastic case, but more traditionally, the display really does use two round mochi cakes piled onto one another.  Mochi symbolize material wealth.  The orange, more specifically a bitter orange (daidai 橙 or alternatively 代々), is placed on top and symbolizes longevity because a bitter orange stays on the tree even in winter, but also because a bitter orange tree also bears many fruit.  Also, the word daidai (代々) is a homophone for “generations” which means prosperity of the family across generations.

At its core, the kagami-mochi is a kind of Shinto temporary “altar” (依り代 yorishiro) for kami to descend and bless the house with both material culture and longevity/prosperity across the generations, especially a kami named toshigami-sama (年神様) which is the God of the Year.  At first when I reserached this in Japanese, I thought the term 年神様 was some kind of catch-all phrase for kami to that come at the end of the year, but apparently there really is in Shinto religion a kami specifically for “years” and in particular the New Year. 😄

One other tradition related to the kagami-mochi is that on the 11th day of the new year (January 11th), the mochi is cooked with sweet red beans, thus bringing good luck for the year.

Happy 2020 Everyone!

EDIT: Made some updates with respect to the kagami-mochi.

P.S.  My earlier post on Japanese New Year greetings.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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