It might be a little late for a New Year’s post, but I guess that depends on who you ask. Traditionally, the Japanese New Year was celebrated in line with the Chinese New Year which is based on a lunisolar calendar. In this case, the Lunar New Year is on February 8 this year, but it does vary depending on when the second new moon after winter solstice falls. Versions of a lunisolar calendar have been used in a number of cultures around the world, but the “modern day” Gregorian calendar is widely accepted internationally, except in a handful of countries. The calculations of calendars and acceptance of one to rule them all is complex, and not where I intend to take this blog post. Although, I do think the evolution of how time and seasons have been recorded is fascinating. For the sake of clarity, the Japanese New Year is celebrated on January 1 just like in the US, but the actual New Year celebration lasts for more than just one day.
In the last couple of years at Shofuso, we’ve started a tradition of decorating the house to celebrate the New Year. We have a gracious group of volunteers who make and setup New Year ornaments, special New Year tea displays, seasonal kimono, etc. I was honored when asked to make the kadomatsu decoration this year. The word kadomatsu translates to gate (kado) pine (matsu). This decoration is made as a set and is placed at the entrance of a house or building. When the initial excitement of my assigned task wore off, I wondered how I was going to make the decoration. Since our setting is a traditional 17th century style house, I wanted to make sure that what I made was traditional, and I didn’t want to “break any rules.” To my relief as I researched the kadomatsu, there really is no right way to make them (but is there a wrong way???). I figured as long as I used pine that I’d be safe. Nearly every example that I’ve ever seen also used bamboo, so I knew that was also going to make it into my arrangements.
I have always wanted to reference the Three Friends of Winter in some way, so I thought the kadomatsu could be my chance. The Three Friends of Winter are pine, bamboo, and plum. Pine because of its longevity, bamboo because of its flexibility and strength, and plum because of its resilience of blooming in the cold of winter. There are a number of ways to explain the Three Friends of Winter, but that is a basic idea that I encourage you to research more if it interests you. It is a commonly used design motif in many textiles, ceramics, paintings, etc. There is an undeniable amount of symbolism in Japanese culture, and so is ingrained in various celebrations and decorations. I typically shy away from talk of symbolism since that’s an area when you might actually “break the rules.” I also think that agonizing over symbolism can sometimes distract you from simply creating something beautiful. In the case of my kadomatsu, the blooming cherry branches that were used represent the plum. Shhhhhhh.
Our winter hours don’t allow for us to accidentally break any rules about the proper time to dismantle the kadomatsu since ours were taken down before the New Year. From what I’ve heard, it could be on January 7, January 15, the Lunar New Year, or on the first full moon of the first lunar month… I’m sure it could also be when it’s convenient since “getting it right” sounds a bit stressful to me. Some people also burn their New Year’s decorations. You can think of what is right or wrong or traditional or not with the kadomatsu tradition similarly to how Americans view their Christmas tree rituals. Some families get their Christmas tree on the day after Thanksgiving and decorate it then, some people decorate their tree on Christmas Eve, some people decorate it when it’s convenient, and it’s inappropriate to put up the tree after Christmas Day. Some people take down their tree the day after Christmas, some people leave it up until New Year’s Day, or some people like my neighbors still have their tree up… they just don’t light it anymore. Ha!