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Shimekazari and New Years in Japan

Posted on December 27 2021

Shimekazari & New Years traditions
Traditional Japanese New Year Decorations 

While the western world make Xmas wreaths, the Japanese will begin making shimekazari. This braided straw is made as a New Year decoration to bring luck and ward off evil spirits. It comes in many shapes but usually consists of straw as the base, pink, and an orange.

These are placed at the top of the house entrance to prevent bad spirits from entering and to invite the Toshigami (歳神), or Shinto deity, to descend and visit. This traditional New Year decoration is made of shimenawa, a sacred Shinto straw rope, and other materials such as bitter oranges, ferns, and white ritual paper strips called shide.

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The Yamakawa family, specialists in the traditional art of twisting and twining hemp fibers into shimenawa ropes for ritual use, we can see five beautiful handmade shimekazari made of Japanese-grown hemp.

#001  “ SPECTACLES ”  W170×H310 (mm)
The “spectacles” (megane) offer a promising glimpse at the year ahead. Sacred ropes are usually made with a left-hand twist, but this shimekazari combines both left- and right-handed twists. A beautiful and sculptural artefact, the spectacles can be enjoyed as a pure objet d’art.

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#002  “ BALL ”  W110×H370
The round circle symbolizes a perfectly round ball or sphere (tama). The classic tama motif imparts a sense of sacredness, gravity, and the self-fulfilling nature. Easily hung in entryways or on walls, this shimekazari works well as a gift or as a year-end greeting.

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Hemp has been used since the prehistoric Jomon period to make clothing, nets, rope, and other such goods. Lustrous and robust, hemp became an important medium for communicating purity and prayers to the gods as well. In shrines and temples, shimenawa serve to bound and separate pure spaces—those inhabited by gods and buddhas—from the impurities of the mundane world. The sacred ropes also play an important role in Sumo and traditional performing arts.

#003  “ DOVE ”  W210×H155
In both Eastern and Western cultures, the dove is regarded as a heavenly messenger, one that bears signposts of the gods and heralds peace. The dove motif, with its well-rounded and pleasing shape, has been used since ancient times as a shimekazari that protects the home.

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 #004  “ LADLE ”  W140×H260
This shimekazari, shaped like a ladle (shakushi or shamoji), carries the meaning of welcoming—literally “scooping up”—good fortune. Traditionally the decoration has been used to protect people and places connected to the food industry, and as a prayer for a safely gathered and abundant harvest in the coming year.

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#005  “ RAIN AND THUNDERBOLT ”  W900×H300
A true masterpiece, this shimekazari features layers of hanging hemp fibers that evoke the numinous scenery of life-giving rain pouring down from heaven, accompanied by thunder and lightning. This classic design, simple yet refined, stands out among all the traditional designs of shimekazari.

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New Years Traditions

Since we don't really celebrate Christmas as much as New Years. The time of the year that companies are mandatorily closed so that everyone can spend time with their family which lasts from 1 week to 10 days. Here are some of our traditions:

Kagami mochi ("mirror rice cake"), is a traditional Japanese New Year decoration. It usually consists of two round mochi (rice cakes), the smaller placed atop the larger, and a daidai (a Japanese bitter orange) with an attached leaf on top. In addition, it may have a sheet of konbu and a skewer of dried persimmons under the mochi. It sits on a stand called a sanpō over a sheet called a shihōbeni which is supposed to ward off fires from the house for the following years. Sheets of paper called gohei folded into lightning shapes similar to those seen on sumo wrestler's belts are also attached.

The kagami mochi first appeared in the Muromachi period (14th–16th century). The name kagami ("mirror") is said to have originated from its resemblance to an old-fashioned kind of round copper mirror, which also had a religious significance. The reason for it is not clear. Explanations include mochi being a food for sunny days, the spirit of the rice plant being found in the mochi, and the mochi being a food which gives strength. The two mochi discs are variously said to symbolise the going and coming years, the human heart, "yin" and "yang", or the moon and the sun. The "daidai", whose name means "generations", is said to symbolise the continuation of a family from generation to generation.

Traditionally the kagami mochi was placed in various locations throughout the house. Nowadays it is usually placed in a household Shinto altar, or kamidana. It has also been placed in the tokonoma, a small decorated alcove in the main room of the home. 

It is traditionally broken and eaten in a Shinto ritual called kagami biraki (mirror opening) on the second Saturday or Sunday of January. This is an important ritual in Japanese martial arts dojos. It was first adopted into Japanese martial arts when Kanō Jigorō, the founder of judo, adopted it in 1884, and since then the practice has spread to aikido, karate and jujutsu studios. After the New Years celebration the mocha is boiled in a soup with various vegetables, red beans, with different regional and styles .

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Toshikoshi soba (年越し蕎麦), year-crossing noodle, is Japanese traditional noodle bowl dish eaten on New Year's Eve. This custom lets go of hardship of the year. The custom differs from area to area and it is also called misoka soba, tsugomori soba, kure soba, jyumyo soba, fuku soba, and unki soba. The tradition started around Edo period (1603-1867) and there are several theories believed that long soba noodles symbolize a long life.[2] The buckwheat plant can survive severe weather during growing period, soba represents strength and resiliency. The custom differs from area to area and it is also called misoka soba, tsugomori soba, kure soba, jyumyo soba, fuku soba, and unki soba. The tradition started around Edo period (1603-1867) and there are several theories believed that long soba noodles symbolize a long life. The buckwheat plant can survive severe weather during growing period, soba represents strength and resiliency. It is a tradition to not break the noodle while you eat it for good luck for the new year. For Japanese people, we don't feel like it is a new year until we eat soba. The making is quite easy, you put the soba and cook it the same way you cook pasta. Just a few minutes and then add tsuyu sauce. You can use any topping that you like, for example nori seaweed, negi green onion, ginger, wasabi, etc. These noodles can be eaten cold with a dipping sauce or in a hot bowl. If they are eaten cold we use a dipping called tsuyu which is a mix of soy sauce, mirin, fish stock. We can also use grinded sesame with soy sauce for vegetarians and vegans. For hot soba we can use the same stock. For vegetarians, it’s possible to use “dashi” made with Kombu seaweed, not fish.

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Then we go to the temple to at midnight on December 31, Buddhist temples all over Japan ring their bells a total of 108 times (除夜の鐘 joyanokane) to symbolize the 108 human sins in Buddhist belief, and to get rid of the 108 worldly desires regarding sense and feeling in every Japanese citizen.

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During the next days we eat "Osechi" good luck food with food for health, work, family, and happiness. In this way we appreciate our living family and ancestors and can say "Akemashite Omedeto to put the last year behind and open ourselves to the new year.

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The First of January is spent visiting temples, spending time with your family. Eating Osechi which is new years good Luck food.

 

Daruma New Years Resolution:

Have a wish. 
Have a goal.
Draw one eye.
Make it come true. 
Draw the other eye when it is fulfilled.

    The Daruma doll is an old Japanese traditional wishing doll that helps people to achieve their dreams and goals. Millions of people in Japan regard it as a talisman of good luck and perseverance, making it a poplar gift of encouragement.

    Covered in a priestly robe from head to toe, with big eyes wide open and lips tightly shut, Daruma dolls have a sturdy body. Their thick eyebrows are drawn in the shape of a crane and the moustache in the shape of a turtle.  It is believed that cranes live 1,000 years and turtles 10,000 years, respectively.

    How to use: Make a wish or define your goal. With that in mind, draw an eye on the left eye and keep the doll. When your goal is achieved, draw the other eye.

    Traditionally the left eye pupil is drawn first. It is believed to have come from the fact that left seats are above the right ones in the Japanese seating arrangement protocol. There are, however, no rules spelled out for this matter. To physically paint an eye on the pupil of a Daruma doll signifies opening of one’s mind. In other words, by painting a Daruma’s eye pupil, you have opened up the eyes of your mind.

    Each Daruma is hand painted by a craftsman

    Colours & their meanings:
    Although typically red, the Daruma doll comes in various colours and sizes. In general, this interpretation of colours has become the standard:

    Red: Luck & Good Fortune
    Blue & Turquoise: Work & School Accomplishment
    Purple & Green: Health & Longevity
    Yellow: Security & Protection
    Gold: Wealth & Prosperity
    White: Love & Harmony
    Pink: Love
    Black: Success in Business

    Place of origin: 
    Hand-made & hand painted in Takasaki, Japan