Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New Year's in Japan

Omikikuchi, a bamboo filament sake-bottle top
Japan has many customs and traditions in order to prepare for the festivities that take place on New Year's Day. They originated from the belief that a house prepared through purification and placing ornaments at its main entrance would provide a welcoming environment for visitors and good luck for the New Year. Among these preparations include include susuharai, cleaning soot from timbers under the roof, and placing shimenawa, sacred straw rope traditionally hung at the entrance of Shinto shrines, at the entrance of the home.

Another place to see these beautiful ornaments besides at people's homes is the Japan Folk Crafts Museum in Tokyo. Each year the museum hosts a New Works craft competition that receives submissions of decorations including pottery, ceramics, woven textiles, and bamboo crafts from all over Japan.

The New Works craft competition dates back to 1936, the year the museum was opened by Soetsu Yanagi.

A traditional New Year's decoration, that was also the winner of last year's competition, is the shimenawa. The rope that is the basis for shimenawa dates back to ancient times when it was believed to ward off evil spirits and hold divine powers. It was thought of to be a symbol of the boundary between the everyday world and the sacred world.

Another type of New Year's ornament found at the museum is the omikikuchi, a bamboo filament sake-bottle top. They were used to decorate the top of sake bottles, which were offered to the gods.

Many people come from all over the world to admire and collect these rare items and this year's exhibition promises to be just as breath-taking as previous years.

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