Friday, January 04, 2008

New Year's decorations

You know, when I normally think about living in Japan I don't really notice that many differences. But during these New Year holidays it seems like everywhere I look there are unique Japanese customs. Customs that I don't really know the reasons for but which I accept as part of Japanese culture. Sometimes I wonder if my half-knowledge is really knowledge at all and I shouldn't even mention some of the things but I guess I'll go ahead and show you some of the New Year sights around here whether I understand them or not.

Yesterday, Tetsu and I went out and about again and he made a stop at the convalescent home that he works at so that I could take a picture of the kadomatsu they have displayed. Many houses have kadomatsu and other New Year's decorations though we don't in our own home. One reason is because they are Shinto customs, one reason is since they don't have meaning for either of us, we ignore the tradition. But I did want to show you what are some typical decorations in Japan around this time of year.

At the front of entrances and gates of large homes and businesses kadomatsu are often displayed. I think the three bamboo poles represent heaven, humanity and earth. The other things around the poles like pine branches, straw circles, berries have connotations of prosperity, long life and good luck. There are always two kadomatsu on each side of the door and over the door is something called a shimenawa. The white paper is always found around shrines and torii gates and has something to do with the residence of the Shinto gods. I don't know what the lobster or the orange is doing there!
Kadomatsu come in all sizes, some like these large displays, some as small as these little displays found at the window of the convalescent home office. This rough bundle of pine, berries and straw is attached to the rusting fence of a small factory near my home!

Another decoration is the kagamimochi and these are two discs of omochi (the pounded rice cake) with an orange on top and the paper and sometimes gold and silver cords. You can find this on window sills but most often it will be placed on the family's Shinto altar. Nowadays you can buy these in the supermarket with the discs of omochi in premolded plastic shapes and a plastic orange on top! An everlasting kagamimochi to display! Eventually the omochi can be taken out of the plastic and eaten so it is not all for decoration purposes.

Sometime next week, there will be a celebration in the midst of the neighboring fields and all the New Year's decorations will be collected, properly blessed and burned. (Actually, I wonder what people do in metropolitan Tokyo.) You don't just throw the decorations of the gods in the garbage can!

Well, I don't have New Year's decorations to worry about but I am in the throws of taking down the Christmas decorations. January 4th. Am I on schedule?


Diane said...

we haven't taken our Christmas decorations down yet! so, you are ahead, as far as I am concerned! Nancy directed me here! I lived in Japan a long time ago, and your reflections on the New Year were great! and very evocative. It has been a long time...

Anonymous said...

Dear Tanya--

Absolutely fascinating, your color observations. Several years ago, I attended Houston Quilt Market at the time when Japanese designers were introducing the "Diawabo Taupe" line of fabrics--a fabulous range of grays, browns, blacks, ecrus, etc. I could not understand how one could get so excited by the extended "color" range until I saw the Japanese quilts using them. Breathtaking! I LOVE their designs and use of all those neutrals, but it doesn't come naturally for me. I tend to be in the Freddy Moran school of color...but ohhh, I'd love to learn!

I'm hoping to access those movies you've described via netflix--My husband lived in Japan for about 2 years long ago--early 80's--and is trying to study up on his Japanese. We've been watching some lovely Japanese movies and I so appreciate your comments.

Actually, I love your blog, reading about daily living in Japan, from the decorations, to gargling with green tea....Thank you! To me you are a cultural guide and I love it!

Katie said...

I always feel I should wait the full 12 days of Christmas before taking the decorations down. But I'm itching to get my house back to normal! So tomorrow down they all come!

Simonetta said...

Hi Tanja, yours decorations are so lovely!!!!Have a great New Year!Hugs

Marilyn R said...

I really enjoy reading about the traditions in Japan and your view of them. Thanks!