4 Traditional New Year’s Decorations; Where to Put Them and What They Mean
Oshogatsu is one of the most important celebrations in Japan. It is a celebration on the change of the season and the beginning of the new year.
In Japan, January 1st is a day to welcome the gods and to pray for the harvest as well as the happiness of the family for the year. Once Christmas is over, the Christmas decorations around town are taken down and preparations for the New Year’s begins. In the past, it was more common to put up New Year’s decorations starting in between December 13th to December 28th and to avoid December 29th. However, with Christmas celebrations becoming bigger in Japan, it is more common nowadays to put up the Oshogatsu decorations on December 26th.
In this article, we introduce decorative items that are used in Japan during the New Year’s celebrations. Once you know the meaning, I’m sure you will find the Oshogatsu decorations around town even more interesting!
This is a mochi that is shaped to look like a mirror (kagami), which is one of the “3 Sacred Treasures” of Japan. This symbolizes the family and the home to be blessed with treasure.
Related: Kagami-biraki: The Ceremony Held on January 11th to Kick Off the New Year
Shimenawa is a type of rope that is used as a separation between a sacred place where the gods reside and the worldly place of mortals. It is meant to be a barrier so nothing evil enters a sacred area. This decoration is placed by the door to make the home a sacred place worthy of the gods visit. By having the gods visit, the family is said to receive the power and blessing for the new year.
The origins of this arrow is said to come for a ceremonial event called the jyarai which was performed during Oshogatsu to test one’s arm in archery. Also the word “hama” in hamaya also sounds like destroying evil. Therefore, the custom of sending a toy bow and arrow on New Year’s to families with male children was developed. Nowadays, the custom is to receive the arrow at hatsumode (the first visit of the year to temple or shrine) as a symbol of capturing the good luck for the coming year.
In the old days the hamaya was placed on the household altar or crossbeam of the home. For homes that do not have the household altar nowadays, the hamaya is placed somewhere as high as possible inside the home.
Taking Down the New Year’s Decorations
The decorations of Oshogatsu are taken down after the gods leave, which is said to be January 7th. Generally, there are ceremonies in temples or shrines of various areas held on January 15th where a fire is built to collect and burn the Oshogatsu decorations. It is said that you will be safe from any sickness or accidents if you eat the mochi roasted in this fire.
When You Cannot Have Oshogatsu Decorations
In Japan, if you are in mourning, (i.e. had a death in the family in the past year), the Oshogatsu decorations are not put up. In Shinto, death is generally considered impure and so inappropriate for the gods to make their visit to such a household. This is why New Year’s decorations are not to be put up by those who have had a death in the family.
Once Christmas is over and New Year’s approaches, you are sure to see these decorative items all over Japan. They are not only decorative and festive, but they have a close intertwined relationship with the traditions and religions of Japan. Prepare these decorations and enjoy a wonderful New Year!