From December 28 to January 7, Japanese new year decorations hang on every door, beckoning in good luck and prosperity for the coming year, but they’re just plain beautiful too!
Shimenawas are stuffed with symbolism (red and white, to scare away evil spirits and attract good luck, rice straw for a good harvest/that raise you totally deserve, etc.) as a sort of wish list for local kami-sama who might be out and and about as one year gives way to the next. But these beauties go way beyond the basics when it comes to gorgeous frippery.
The most traditional kind are swags of rice straw, decorated with folded paper charms from a Shinto shrine, the eternal circle (to remind the gods that long life is always on your list) and a nod to the evergreen pine that is a symbol of life when eerything else looks dead…
Others call you on your rice straw and raise you a crane and some sacred offering papers…
…or get fancy with gold and fans and tassels and cranes and nandina berries (which also appear in winter).
And even though these might look like a modern nod to Pride, the five colors actually represent the five meditation goals: to transform ignorance (white), anger (blue), pride (yellow), jealousy (green) and attachment to the things of this world (red) into wisdom.
And, uh, the significance of the rabbit and the string of what look suspiciously like termites? No clue, except this picture was taken as the Year of the Rabbit was about to begin.
The other most popular shimenawa form looks a bit like a Xmas wreath, since the West doesn’t have exclusive rights to the eternal circle…
but they also rope in plum blossoms for good measure (a sign of triumphing over adversity, since the plum tree famously blooms when most other plants won’t show even a bud for another month)…
Or they adorn the wreaths with bells to grab the gods’ attention with a little jingle every time the door opens.
Sometimes they just stick on everything but the kitchen sink, and it still looks good.
This rustic-looking shimenawa features another favorite new year’s decoration, the kagami mochi—”mirror rice cakes” that recall the ur-goddess Amaterasu’s sacred mirror.
The real-life version of kagami mochi is made of actual perishable pounded rice, which can get a bit gnarly after sitting out for over a week, so most people substitute kagami mochi made of more permanent stuff. This year (in the most awesome representations yet), I found these beauties, made of glass.
From this lovely basic version…
…to designs that snazz things up with a little gold leaf and some fancy mizuhiki wire decorations.
This one is my favorite, though.
Of course, there are other ways to start the new year off in a good way, like toasting with a seasonal beer that gives a nod to the incoming zodiac animal…
…or, uh, wishing for some spice in your life?
And finally, a new design I’ve never seen before, that gets back to basics, but also heralds an event that’s celebrated the world over in the depths of winter: the return of the sun.
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Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, produces the monthly Japanagram newsletter, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had