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Kadomatsu, Toshigami-sama, and the Three Friends of Winter

Japanese people are not particularly keen on keeping all old traditions, but they do treat New Year as the most important season. Even if you meet friends, coworkers or clients in the second half of January, saying something in Japanese like “Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu” is a smart move.KadomatsuToshigami-sama, the Year god, is believed to visit houses of all people on New Year’s Eve, make everyone one year older and bring happiness.Toshigami

In order to welcome him, you need to deep clean the house, and put up a pair of gate pines (kadomatsu), holy rope decoration (shime-nawa) and other decorations (shime-kazari).KadomatsuOriginally the pine gate was made only of pine-tree branches, hence the name. People believed that gods live in pine-trees. Nobody can say for sure when 3 sticks of bamboo, the symbol of long life, and some plum branches were added. Do you know Sho-Chiku-Bai? It the reading of kanji 松竹梅 – pine, bamboo and plum, the Tree Friends of Winter. Chinese art regards these 3 plants as a symbol of resilience, because they can survive the cold winter weather. By the way, combination of bamboo, plum blossom, orchid and chrysanthemum is called the Four Noble Ones. They were depicted in Chinese bird-and-flower paintings and later adopted by artists of Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

Shime-kazari are be different depending on the area of Japan, but typically they are made with fern, a piece of kelp, bitter orange dai-dai and a lobster. Kadomatsu

Japanese red-crowned crane is a symbol of fidelity and longevity.Shimekazari

Modern kadomatsu has so many other additional elements it looks like a real work of art:

Nanten (Nandina) – “heavenly bamboo”, a plant native to Japan. Despite the name, it is not related to bamboo in any way. Nanten is a poisonous evergreen shrub with red berries that often persist through the winter. Sometimes it is replaced by senryo (千両), a similar-looking shrub with orange berries.KadomatsuGohei (御幣) – a wand with stripes of paper used as a symbolic offering in Shinto.

Habotan (葉牡丹) – ornamental cabbage (kale), one of the garden plants.

A folding fan ougi (扇) attracts prosperity to your home.Kadomatsu

Hakama (袴) – matting for kadomatsu stand, made of straw or bamboo.

Article by Olga Kaneda

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