Monthly Archives: December 2013


As the calendar year comes to a close in Japan it is customary to wish others a good new year to come. This Japanese phrase phonetically is “yoh-ee-oh-toh-shee-woh” and its written form (as you might have guessed) is the above title.

Now, this can only be used until midnight on New Years Eve; at which time it is replaced by another very important Japanese phrase. But, you will have to wait until tomorrow for that one.

Until then, we wish you a very happy and safe New Years Eve…and, of course, a good new year to come.


Kagami Mochi

The next traditional Japanese New Year decoration is the kagami mochi. Literally translated as “mirror rice cake”, it consists of two round rice cakes (the smaller placed atop the larger, kind of like a snowman) and a daidai (Japanese bitter orange) on top. This then sits on a stand (called a sanpo) and a sheet (called a shihobeni), which is meant to ward off fires for the upcoming year. Sheets of paper (called gohei) are folded into lightning shapes (a lot like those seen on yokozuna sumo belts) and attached to the front.

So, what is the meaning of this? It seems a little unclear. Depending on the source, the two rice cakes are said to symbolize: the going and coming years, the human heart, the “yin” and “yang”, or the moon and the sun. The orange (whose Japanese name means “generations”) is said to symbolize the continuation of a family from generation to generation.

Some people make their own; but, they can be found for sale almost everywhere and come in an extremely wide variety of sizes, qualities, and prices. A quick peek into a grocery, convenience, or home store will find some with whimsical characters, some made of plastic, some barely 50mm tall (you do the conversion, it is good mental stimulation), and some that would require taking out a loan. Once made or obtained, they are placed in lobbies, entry alcoves, reception counters, buffet tables…basically anywhere and everywhere in homes and businesses alike. Here is a picture of the one in our lobby.


Tradition dictates that the kagami mochi is broken and eaten on the second Saturday or Sunday of January. Now…having eaten some fresh mochi, I am a little concerned how it is going to taste after sitting out on a counter for a few weeks.

Quick Transition ~ Christmas to New Years

Literally the day after Christmas all related decorations were either already down or in the process of coming down. In Japan, the New Years celebration is extremely important and comes complete with all its own décor.

The most prominent of the New Years’ decorations is the kadomatsu; which consists of a pair of pine, bamboo, and straw ‘arrangements’ that are placed on each side of housing entrances. They are meant to welcome the ancestral spirits of the harvest and bring longevity, prosperity, and steadfastness. The central/focal element of the arrangement is three bamboo shoots (of different heights) which represent heaven (tallest), humanity (middle), and earth (shortest).

As the tradition goes, sometime after January 15 the kadamatsu are burned to appease the ancestral spirits and release them.

Below is a picture of the kadamatsu for our building.

new year

Healthy Fries

In Japan, there are these “healthy fries”. They are sold at convenience stores and, in Harajuku, there is a Calbee store. At which, you can purchase many “healthy foods” such as “healthy chips” with cheese sauce or chocolate sauce. They also serve, the more traditional, “healthy fries”. Along with almost all food in Japan, you can get any “healthy food” as just the food or a set. At this store, the set is just the fries with a drink.

Even though when you get these fresh healthy fries, they are warm and fresh. When you buy the same product at a convenience store, it’s a little different. It is sealed, not warm, hard (crunchy), and not as enjoyable. But, I’ve heard that if you put a little bit of water into the cup, take off the sealed lid, and place it in the microwave. I’ve never done this, so I wouldn’t know.

Hagoita Fair

Hagoita Fair is a three day event held in Asakusa in front of the Sensoji Temple. This fair sells hundreds of hagoita, which are beautiful wooden paddles that are decorated most commonly decorated with portraits of traditional Kabuku actors. Colorful fabric is used to create the images and give them dimension. One hagoita may sell for hundreds of dollars.

The custom is to give a hagoita to young girls to pray for their healthy growth. The board is to “bounce back evil.”