Japan Culture Lab

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What is “kadomatsu”? When is the decorating period of the “kadomatsu”? How should it be done away with?

      2018/01/03

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Among the many new year decorations, there is the “kadomatsu”.

As you prepare for the new year, there might be questions such as “when shall the kadomatsu be put out?” or “how should it been done away with?”.

We hope our findings on the meaning, origin, how to put it out, and how to do away with the “kadomatsu” be helpful for your new year preparations.

 

 

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What are the meanings and origins of the “kadomatsu”?

“Kadomatsu” is one of the new year decorations made out of bamboo and pine. It is put in front of the house gate.

It is also called “matsu(pine) kazari(decoration)”, “kazari(decoration) matsu(pine)”, or also “tate(standing) matsu(pine)”. It is said to be a guide the “toshi gami sama (the new year god)” to find the house without getting lost. This “toshi gami sama” is said to bring full harvest and happiness to the family every new year.

 

Trees are said to be the home of gods. Especially pine is used to make “kadomatsu” for it being a celebrating tree. The reason is that pine is said, “matsu” in Japanese, and it links with the word “matsuru”, meaning enshrine.

Bamboo stands out in “kadomatsu” but the main part is made out of pine.

“Kadomatsu” originates from the ritual “Komatsu biki (pulling out a young pine)” from the Heian era (794 – 1185).

This “komatsu biki” was done by pulling out a young pine tree on the first day of the rat in the new year to pray for longevity.

“Kadomatsu” first appears in literatures of late Heian era, where they only decorated pine in the front door.

It was in the Muromachi era (1336 – 1573) when they started using bamboo, symbolizing longevity, with pine for decoration.

The bamboo used in the “kadomatsu” is cut in two different ways, “sogi” and “zundou”. “Sogi” is cut diagonally and “zundou” is cut sideways.

 “Sogi” cutting is believed to be Ieyasu Tokugawa’s (founder of Tokugawa Shogunate) burning desire to “I will slash you in the next battle,” to his enemy Shingen Takeda at the Battle of Mitagahara in 1572. This battle was Ieyasu Tokugawa’s one and only defeat.

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 You will usually see two “kadomatsu” placed on both sides of gates. One is called the “omatsu”, the black pine, and the other “mematsu”, the red pine.

“Omatsu”, also known as “kuromatsu”, is a blackish pine with hard, thick, and long pines.

“Mematsu”, also known as “akamatsu”, is a reddish pine with soft, thin, and short pines.

Though the custom is to decorate the “omatsu (the black pine)” on the left and the “mematsu (the red pine)” on the right, nowadays red pine is hardly used and only the black pine is mainly used.

 

 

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When is the decorating period?

“Kadomatsu” should be out during the “Matsu no uchi”, meaning the new year week.

“Matsu no uchi”, starting from December 13th, is a period when new year decorations should be out.

December 13th is the “Shougatsugoto-hajime”, the day to start preparing for welcoming the New Year. People start house cleaning, which is called “susu(dust) harai(cleaning)”, and cut off pines for the new year decorations, called the “matsu(pine) mukae(welcome)”.

The end of “matsu no uchi” differs in regions. In the eastern Japan it ends on January 7th, and in the western Japan it ends on January 15th.

“Kadomatsu” can be placed anytime from December 13th, but December 29th and 31st should be avoided for the reasons following. 29th is read “ni(two) jyuu(ten) ku(sufferings)” in Japanese which can also be read as twenty sufferings. If the “kadomatsu” was placed on December 31st, it would be a “ichiya kazari”, meaning decorated for only one night, or “ichi nichi kazari”, meaning decorated for only a day and they both would be making light of god.

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Why is the “matsu no uchi” period different in eastern and western Japan?

“Matsu no uchi” was originally determined to end on January 15th and “kagami biraki”, eating the kagami mochi (round rice cakes) on January 20th all over Japan.

Since the “toshi gami sama” is said to be dwelled in the “kagami mochi”, “kagami biraki” is held after the “matsu no uchi” is over.

However, Iemitsu, the third shogun of the Tokugawa family died on April 20th of 1651(4th year of Keian) in the Edo era (1603-1868), which made the 20th of every month an anniversary date for Iemitsu” death.

Therefore, in eastern Japan where the Tokugawa shogunate’s headquarter was located, January 20th was avoided to be the day of “kagami biraki” and held the “kagami biraki” on January 11th instead.

However, January 11th is within the “matsu no uchi”.

Wouldn’t it be impolite to the “toshi gami sama” to hold the “kagami biraki” during the “matsu no uchi” since it’s the period when “toshi gami sama” is said to be there? So in 1662, the Tokugawa shogunate announced January 7th to be the end of decorations.

Wouldn’t it be impolite to the “toshi gami sama” to hold the “kagami biraki” during the “matsu no uchi” since it’s the period when “toshi gami sama” is said to be there? So in 1662, the Tokugawa shogunate announced January 7th to be the end of decorations.

Therefore, “matsu no uchi” ended on January 7th in eastern Japan where the shougnate’s headquarter was located but since the announcement was not conveyed properly to western Japan, the end of “matsu no uchi” remained to end on January 15th.

 

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In 1657 (3rd year of Meireki), there was a big fire in Edo. It lasted for three days from January 18th to 20th and it burnt almost all the city area.

According to another theory, “matsu no uchi” was shortened after this big fire of Meireki, called the “Meireki no taika (the big fire of Meireki)” since pine decorations would be dangerous in case of fires.


How to do away with the “kadomatsu”.

It is normal to bring it to “dondo yaki” This is held at shrines where they burn the new year decorations and sending off the god of the incoming year.

“Dondo yaki” is normally held after the “matsu no uchi” is over so make sure to check your nearby shrines for the dates.

Even in shrines where they do not hold “dondo yaki”, they will burn them after purification. This is called the “otaki age”.

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It would be better to avoid disposing it as garbage since “kadomatsu” is a bringer of good luck, but there might be times when there is no other choice.

In that case, you shall dispose it after purifying it with salt.

“Kadomatsu” may be grouped in large-sized garbage so it may be better to confirm your town on how to dispose large-sized garbage.

 

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Now you are aware that “kadomatsu” were originally made out of only pine where nowadays bamboos stand out.

The new year’s is a happy day to start off a new year.

It would be great to properly prepare to welcome the “toshi gami sama” and to dispose the “kadomatsu” with gratitude.

 

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