Shimekazari 注連飾り and Delicious New Year in Japan
Shimekazari 注連飾りis one of the many fascinating and unique New Year traditions that are still being followed even in modern times in Japan. Immediately after Christmas all associated decorations, most of which are international such as Christmas tree, are removed and replaced by various traditional symbolic objects with deep auspicious meanings. Shimekazari consists of shimenawa (a sacred rice straw rope), pine, and a bitter orange as a symbol of posterity, combined with various other good luck charms and adornments.
Shimekazari are hung above doors to invite gods of good fortune and to ward off evil spirits...
Another important traditional decoration for New Year is kadomatsu 門松? that is placed in pairs in front of the house to welcome ancestral spirits or kami of the harvest. Kadomatsu are usually made of three bamboo shoots of different lengths as symbols of prosperity, pine (symbolizing longevity), and sometimes of ume (plum branches, symbolizing steadfastness). They’re said to be the temporary dwelling places of gods who visit to bless humans, and are usually burned after January 15th to appease the kami or toshigami (deity) and release them.
Celebrating New Year Japanese-style is not only extremely gratifying spiritually, but also exceptionally satisfying nutritionally. For the end of the year Japan comes back from modern high-tech to customs and traditions that are being kept alive all these centuries since Heian era (starting 794 AD). Historically is was a taboo to cook on New Year´s day, so a vast variety of special foods has been elaborated, called Osechi Ryori (お節料理), that are typically stewed with lots of sugar or vinegared in order to preserve them. They´re traditionally arranged in neat and very practical boxes, jūbako, that can be stacked one on another for larger families or parties.
Each dish chosen for osechi ryori is a symbolic wish for things like long life, wealth, fertility, and happiness...
Like with everything in Japan, great attention is paid to the look and arrangement of the dishes in the boxes. Every ingredient is neatly cut, prepared, decorated and placed on precise location. There´s a great variety of dishes that you can find in osechi ryori, such as renkon no nitsuke レンコンの煮付け (lotus root cut like chrysanthemums and simmered in sweet soy sauce), kamaboko 蒲鉾 (the quintessential pink and white Japanese fishcakes traditionally sliced and layered in alternating rows of pink and white) or datemaki 伊達巻 (sweet golden rounds of egg and fishcake with a ribbed outer surface).
For anyone who would like to learn more about the New Year´s foods in Japan or maybe even to try to prepare these mouth-watering creations, we´ve found the article on osechi ryori recipes of Marc Matsumoto to be most inspiring.