BEHIND THE KADOMATSU TRADITION
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Kadomatsu is one of the important traditions of Oshögatsu (Japanese New Year). As you may have noticed, kadomatsu styles vary according to region, house size and your taste; however, there are specific rules that should be followed.
In the Shinto belief, Toshigami-sama (one of the Shinto gods) first visits us through fresh matsu (pine boughs) in kadomatsu and stays in Kadomatsu temporarily. The purpose of kadomatsu is to attract Toshigami-sama and give her space to stay for a short time. It is known as yorishiro. If you decorate kagamimochi in your house, Toshigami-sama will come into your house and stay in the kagamimochi during the oshögatsu period. Thus, you will receive happiness and prosperity from her. Toshigami-sama is believed to bring a bountiful harvest to farmers and prosperity to people. Toshigami-sama is also thought to be female, so if females put the New Year’s decorations, she avoids visiting those houses.
According to traditional oshögatsu rules, we begin preparing for New Year’s on Dec. 13, which we call shougatsu-kotohajime. Dec. 13 is also known as matsumukae (greeting the pine). On Dec. 13th, or after the 13th, matsu (pine bough) for kadomatsu is picked from the mountain or woods. It means that you can decorate the kadomatsu after Dec. 13, but not on Dec. 29 and Dec. 31. Dec. 29 is considered a bad luck day in our culture because of the number 9. In Japanese culture, 9 means suffering, so 29 means double suffering. If you decorate on Dec. 31, it shows a lack of respect to the god since you decorate for only one day. So, clearly no kadomatsu should be in stores before Dec. 13th. Sadly, in Hawai‘i, some stores ignore the custom and start selling kadomatsu before the 13th. It seems that these stores care only about their own profits and/or may not be aware of the traditions. Selling the kadomatsu before the 13th disrespects Toshigami-sama. She does not like impurities. Bringers of good luck must come from good places and good people.
Traditionally, we keep the Kadomatsu until Jan. 15, after which we burn them to release Toshigami-sama. However, some areas keep their kadomatsu until Jan. 7. The day varies depending on the region.
Aiko Takayama is from a rice farming family in Niigata, Japan. Her family traditionally makes kadomatsu and shimenawa (straw rope with white strips of zigzag paper) during the oshögatsu period. Shimenawa mark the boundary to something sacred and are often found on torii gates and around sacred trees and stones.