A Guide to 2 Traditional Decorations Used for Japanese New Year

  • The New Year is a big deal in Japan. The most important holiday of the calendar year, when family and friends get together and celebrate the year gone by and the potential of the year to come.

    If you are in Japan around this time, you will see some unique and beautiful decorations. Of course, they are not as flashy and lit up like Christmas decorations, but they are beautiful nonetheless. More traditional and simple than gaudy.

    Let’s take a look at the more common New Year decorations you will see during your travels!

    Kadomatsu (Gate Pine)

    We place these in front of the house entrance or gate after Christmas, around the 27th or 28th of December, until January 7th. This tradition dates way back in history, like crazy back – think around the 1100s. The main reason for placing this is to welcome the gods coming down from the heavens. Well, maybe you are a believer, maybe not, but it looks cool, so just go with the flow and do it! You can buy these at home centres and department stores, flower stores, and 100 Yen shops. Or you can go all crazy and make your own. I prefer buying. Rip off the plastic, put the decoration in the appropriate place, and you are good to go.

    Kagami Mochi (Mirror Rice Cake)

    These things are sold anywhere and everywhere during the rush up to New Year. They vary in size and price but feature two pounded rice cakes, stacked on top of each other, with a Japanese orange, or mikan, on top. You can buy fresh ones or plastic wrapped ones that don’t get all moldy and gross. They are available at the usual places – home centres, 100 Yen shops, supermarkets, etc. Some people eat the rice cakes, some people don’t. Either way, put it in your entrance, on the family altar, or in the Buddhist alcove in your house. The tradition dates back to the 1300s, which is a crazy long history of mochi decorating!

    General Tips

    There are some rules you don’t break when decorating. First, and most importantly, don’t go decorating your house for New Years on December 29th! The number nine in Japanese sounds like the word suffer. You have already suffered enough through the year, why add more pain? You should also avoid decorating on the 31st of December. This is considered to be very bad luck, as you are doing it just for show, at the last minute. Think of it like this. You have a date, but were busy, so you Febreezed some jeans and bought a new t-shirt at the Gap. Get close, and your jeans still smell funky, and you forgot the tag on the shirt. No one gets a second date after that business!

    Enjoy the holiday, and decorate your pad for the New Year! Happy Decorating!

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