Japanese Language Blog

Japanese Culture: Let it Burn! Posted by on Jan 8, 2009 in Culture

Around the seventh of January and many days afterward, the Japanese have a tradition of burning New Year’s decorations.  Burning the New Year’s decorations symbolizes the act of moving forward.  If you don’t burn the New Year’s decorations, it’s like holding on to the past.  Moreover, holding on to the past is an act that doesn’t help you grow and mature as an indvidual.

On the eight of Janurary there is a tradition practiced in Tookyoo (とうきょ) called dondo yaki (どんどやき).  A dondo yaki (どんどやき) is a tall tepee-like structure made of straw.  The dondo yaki (どんどやき) is lit with a fire and all the New Year’s decorations are burned along with the dondo yaki (どんどやき).  It’s a time to say good-bye to the old year and to any old, emotional attachments that might have held you back on a personal or professional level.

Some of the typical New Year’s decorations include the kadomatusu (門松).  The Kadomatsu (門松) is a type of bamboo and pine decoration.  From far away it looks like a minature tree, but it’s not a tree.  There are usually three bamboo shoots tied with straw and some pine around the edges.  The kadomatsu (門松) come in pairs and represent male and female entities.  The kadomatsu (門松) is placed right outside of the house before the entrance.  The kadomatsu (門松) is thought to invite kami () or spirits to dwell within the bamboo and pine.  Of course, it’s supposed to bring in the good spirits, not the bad ones.  Hopefully the kamis () leave the kadomatsu (門松) before it’s burned in the dondo yaki (どんどやき)!

The shimenawa (標縄) is also burned in the dondo yaki (どんどやき).  Most normal rope is twisted in a certain direction, but the shimenawa (標縄) is a type of rope that has been twisted in the opposite directioon.  It’s thought that bad spirits will be turned away in the opposite direction with the shimenawa (標縄).  The shimenawa (標縄) is often accompanied by a shide (紙垂).  A shide (紙垂) is a pointy, white type of paper with jagged edges.  Again, the jagged edges are supposed to drive away evil spirits.

Lastly, let’s not forget the daruma (達磨).  A daruma (達磨) is a type of doll without arms or legs.  It’s made out of wood or plastic.  Darumas (達磨) typically come in red, and have two eyes without pupils.  A daruma (達磨) is an effective tool to help make your dreams a reality.  How?  Well first you start by making a wish or setting a goal.  Then you draw in a black pupil for one of the eyes.  If you’ve accomplished your goal or if your wish came true, you draw in the other eye.  I personally like it because it constantly reminds me of what I need to do to fulfill my goals.  I have a daruma (達磨) sitting on my desk and looking at it every day with only one eye drawn in is very distressing to me.  It looks so wrong, with one eye blank and the other eye perfectly normal.

When the daruma (達磨) is burned along with the rest of the New Year’s decorations, it gives me a sense of relief.  It’s like all the hard work and struggle is coming to a final close.  Everyone, it’s been a pleasure writing this blog.  I hope that you’ll continue reading and learning the Japanese language and culture in the year 2009.  Bye!

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