Towers of pine and bamboo: Kadomatsu decoration, a tradition of the Japanese New Year’s Holiday

Kadomatsu is a decoration with three cut pieces of bamboo and pine for the Japanese New Year’s holiday. After Christmas, you will see this decoration at the entrances of houses’ and buildings’ in Japan.

2016-12-20   Culture,

kadomatsu

Kadomatsu bamboo gate at a house’s entrance


【 CONTENTS 】

Kadomatsu is a decoration with three cut pieces of bamboo and pine for the Japanese New Year’s holiday. After Christmas, you will see this decoration at the entrances of houses’ and buildings’ in Japan.

The Meaning of Kadomatsu decorations.

Kadomatsu is the land mark for the Shinto deity Toshigami-sama, to enter your home. In Japan, it has believed that Toshigami-sama comes to each family to bring happiness on New Year’s day. However, the deity only visits when he is invited. The Kadomatsu decorations take on the role of sign at an entrance to welcome the deity.
kadomatsu1

Greeneries consist of Kadomatsu decorations.

・Pine Tree
Kadomatsu in the Japanese language includes the character of the pine tree (matsu:松), so pine is the principal plant used in the decoration. From ancient times, the pine tree has had special meaning to Japanese people. We believe the tree is a place where the sprits of the deities live. Even though the bamboo looks important, the pine tree is essential to the decoration.

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Kadomatsu is always associated with the pine tree

・Bamboo
Bamboo are the most appealing in the decoration. Bamboo started being associated with Kadomatsu during the Samurai society period. It is said that the people believed bamboo is suitable to wish away the troubles of life, because it always grows straight towards sky.

・Plum flowers and Flowering kale
Plum flowers and flowering kale are often adorned. Both of them have fortunate meanings. As plum flowers bloom early in the yea, during the relatively cold period, the flower is thought of as a strong and durable plant. Flowering kale layering its leaves, is interpreted as adding more and more fortune.

Plum flower
Plum flower
Flowering kale
Flowering kale

When do we decorate with Kadomatsu?

The holy “Kadomatsu” has 2 rules as to when you should set up and take them down. You must refrain from setting it up on December 29th and 31st. The 29th is believed to be an unlucky day because of its pronunciation (‘stand on and suffer’ in Japanese). Preparing it on the 31st is called “Ichiya Kazari” (one-night decoration) and it’s impolite, because it shows that you rushed through the process and did it at the last minute.

The time to take them down is slightly different depending on the area, but please keep decorating with it until January 7th. Toshigami-sama is believed to stay at your house until January 7th, so it will be impolite to take it down any earlier than that.

Why are there two different cuts to the Kadomatsu bamboo?

During the Year end and New Year’s holidays, various types of Kadomatsu decorations can be seen in Japan. The major difference is the cut-edge of the bamboo. One style is the horizontally cut, this is the original.

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horizontally cut

Another is an oblique cut, much like being slashed with a sword. This style is said to have been started by the first Tokugawa Shogunate. When he lost a battle during his career, he slashed bamboo instead of his rival, and wished for a win in his next battle.

kadomatsu
oblique cut

If you stay in Japan during the Year End and New Year’s holidays, please enjoy finding the different Kadomatsu decorations throughout your area.

Here are some other traditions of the Japanese New Year’s holidays:

Omisoka and Oshogatsu: The Japanese Year End and New Year’s holidays
What is a Kagami mochi decoration? A Japanese New Year tradition

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AUTHOR

Kenichiro Asai

Kenichiro Asai

Writer

I’m a wanderer who suddenly found himself working as a writer. I normally teach junior high school students at a preparatory school.