Human Flower Project

Kadomatsu—Welcoming Japan’s New Year

Chimes, brown noodles in broth, and arrangements of pine and bamboo signal a fresh start in Japan.


Photo: Japanese Festivals

Shogatsu has arrived already in Japan. Happy New Year!

This is perhaps the grandest Japanese holiday of all. Throughout late December, Japanese companies have held bonenkai parties, to “forget the year.” One blogger observes that these binge-fests of food and drink are paradoxical: they celebrate “all the stuff you want to leave behind you as you look forward to a new year. Then again it seems like all the silliness you want to forget about is what you end up doing at the bonenkai itself.” Here are some bonenkai revelers feeling no pain.

Shogatsu/New Year’s Day (the word actually means “January”) is marked with many more delicious and decorous customs that, unless you’re allergic to pine, won’t cause a hangover. The kadomatsu is our favorite.  Bamboo stalks, sliced diagonally across the top, are decorated with pine, and other plants—nandina, plum branches, purple cabbages…—all bound with straw. These beautiful winter arrangements are set like sentinels by entryways, to receive spiritual blessing and attract goodness.

One commentator writes, “A majestic evergreen pine tree grows into a tall, towering tree, so it is used as a symbol of longevity. Bamboo is a very strong plant that grows very straight and tall with a sturdy root structure, so it is thought of as a symbol of prosperity. The plum tree is not only neat and clean but also withstands the cold patiently and constantly, so it is considered to be a symbol of constancy.” The kadomatsu captures these virtues and may bring them to all who work or dwell within.

imageFujio Kaneko

and the kadomatsu he designed

for the Honolulu Academy of Arts

Photo: Craig T. Kojima

The kadomatsu—like so many human flower projects—serves many purposes at once: decoration, invitation and prayer.

This article from the Honolulu Star Bulletin explains how to make one correctly. For example, one should use only odd numbers of each plant, and the bamboo should be sliced at various heights, all steeply angled “to allow the spirits to enter.” This article, too, gives precise instructions.

“The bamboo legs must come in contact with the foundation of the home. A table, basket or container holding the bamboo is considered bad luck and should be avoided when placing your kadomatsu outside. It should never enter the home.” Further, the kadomatsu considered luckiest were traditionally made “only by men,” maybe because cutting and tying big bamboo takes superstrength, maybe because otherwise the customary shogatsu foods wouldn’t make it to the table.

Kadomatsu seem to decorate homes and businesses, but the making of these beautiful winter emblems isn’t limited to men or even adults.


Kadomatsu with zigzag paper (gohei)

Photo: Gary Akiko

For your New Year’s enjoyment, here are several photos from Kyoto and one with a handsome terrier.

Special greetings to our friends Masashi, in Japan, and Eishi, in the U.S. And wishes for prosperity, longevity, and constancy to all this Shogatsu 2006.

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