Preparations for the New Year

As many Japanese do, I cleaned my apartment to prepare for the New Year. The New Year season is extremely special for Japanese. In old days they believed that toshi-gami, the god of the year, came over. As the god likes clean environment, he does not come to a dirty house. When he does not come, binbô-gami, the god of poverty, will come instead. We, recent Japanese, do not believe such a thing literally, but without cleaning up the house we feel uncomfortable.

After cleaning the rooms, I displayed kagami-mochi, a rice cake ornament. Two pieces of rice cake are piled up and a small orange is put on the top. Various decorations are attached as I show in the picture. Sometimes a sheet of dried sea vegetables and/or dried persimmons and/or a dried cuttlefish may be added. This is the food for the god of the year.

As many shops close during the New Year holidays, I went to market to buy necessary things. At the door of the apartment house, I found shime-nawa, a straw festoon. This is a sign to divide a sacred area. To invite the god into our house, we should purify the inside, and put a symbol on the border.

In front of a shopping mall, where I had taken a picture of Christmas tree, there was big kado-matsu, a pine and bamboo decoration. This is a receiver for the god. Japanese gods usually live in the heaven, and, when we invite them, we set an antenna, which is called yorimashi in ancient Japanese. Kado-matsu is thought to be a sort of yorimashi.

During the New Year holidays, we eat special meals. Tomorrow, on the last day of the year, we usually eat noodle at midnight. It symbolizes long, even if frugal, life. The special meal for the New Year’s day will be presented here later.

Tomorrow, Buddhist temples will sound bells 108 times at midnight. Usually, they sound bells at sunset, but on the last day of the year at midnight. The number 108 is a symbol of human worldly desires. Listening the sound of bells, we will cleanse of all the spiritual dirt, and welcome the New Year.

This is the last message of this year. I wish you a Happy New Year!