Entries in お正月 (2)


Shime Kazari

When you live forever in only one part of a country, it's easy to assume that the way things are done in your region are the same nationwide. It took me two decades to realize that sansha mairi (visiting three shrines at New Year's) was a custom limited to Fukuoka. 

Similarly, the shimé kazari, a New Year's decoration placed above the entrance to homes and buildings, varies from region to region. Shime-kazari is said to originate from shime-nawa (twisted hemp and rice straw rope placed at the entrance of shrines to indicated a sacred space) and meant to keep misfortune and unclean spirits away and greet Toshigami (年神), the gods and ancestors brought with the new year.



Sorry, but . . . 

   Few Japanese customs are sillier than the that of sending mochū hagaki (喪中葉書, "mourning postcard"). The mochū hagaki (pictured above) is a postcard which is mailed to friends, relatives, co-workers, and others in the month of December notifying them that due to the death of family member during the past year the family will be in mourning and unable to send out New Year's greeting cards known as a nengajō (年賀状). It is as if they are saying, "I am sending this postcard to you to inform you that I cannot send you a postcard."

   To be fair, the mochū hagaki does serve the useful purpose of informing others that they need not bother sending a nengajō to the family out of respect for their loss, even when the person who has died was 105 years old, as is the case in the postcard on the left, and "relief" might be a better word to describe the emotions felt upon the passing of Great Grandpa.