Kagami Mochi Brings Good Luck, Health, and Prosperity in the New Year

Simple kagami mochi decorate this altar in Japan.
Photo by Tamaki Sono via Flickr Creative Commons.

A new year is here, and this Sunday, JANM will be celebrating Oshogatsu (Japanese New Year) along with the rest of Little Tokyo. Our free Oshogatsu Family Festival will welcome everyone with Year of the Rooster-themed activities, crafts, and performances.

Oshogatsu is widely considered the most important holiday in Japan, and there are many time-honored traditions that go with it. We’ve explored a few of those traditions on this blog: mochitsuki, Daruma dolls, and osechi-ryori. Today, in anticipation of Sunday’s festival, we will look at kagami mochi, a traditional Japanese New Year decoration. Among the many exciting things we have planned is a craft activity in which participants will be able to construct and take home their own replica of a kagami mochi.

Kagami mochi basically consists of a large round rice cake (mochi) topped with another, slightly smaller rice cake, which is then topped with a small bitter orange (daidai). The two rice cakes symbolize the year that just passed along with the year that is to come, while daidai is a homonym for the phrase “generation to generation.” Thus, the arrangement celebrates long life, the bonds of family, and the continuity of generations.

Hisako Hibi, New Year’s Mochi, 1943. Hisako Hibi Collection,
Japanese American National Museum.

An additional meaning harkens back to an ancient Japanese myth. The word kagami means mirror, and the round shape of the rice cakes is said to resemble the mirror of the sun goddess Amaterasu. According to legend, the earth went dark when Amaterasu retreated from the world and hid in a cave. She was eventually drawn out with a mirror, restoring light to the world. Thus, kagami mochi also symbolizes the renewal of light and energy that occurs at the start of a new year.

Each family decorates kagami mochi in their own way; variations include a sheet of kelp to symbolize pleasure and joy. It is recommended that several kagami mochi are placed in locations throughout the house, in order to please the various Shinto gods that are believed to dwell there.

An especially elaborate kagami mochi arrangement, made in Peru. Photo by the Japanese Peruvian Association (APJ) via DiscoverNikkei.org.

Kagami mochi are set out around the end of the year, and remain on display until kagami biraki day (kagami breaking day, or “the opening of the mirror”), which usually takes place on or around January 11. On that day, the kagami mochi are broken into pieces with a hammer—never cut, as that would symbolically sever family ties—and cooked and eaten, often as part of a traditional soup called ozoni. This is considered the first important Shinto ritual of the year.

Come celebrate with us on Sunday, January 8, and increase your good fortune for 2017!

To learn more about kagami mochi and other Japanese New Year traditions, we recommend the following articles on our Discover Nikkei site: “Mochi Making Then and Now”; “Oshogatsu Traditions in the United States”; “Mochi Food of the Kami”; and “Happy New Year! Reminiscing about Oshogatsu with Mochi”.

Japan’s Unique New Year

At JANM's 2015 Oshogatsu Family Festival, Kodama Taiko perform a mochitsuki (rice cake pounding) ceremony to ring in the new year. Photo: Russell Kitagawa.
At JANM’s 2015 Oshogatsu Family Festival, Kodama Taiko perform a mochitsuki
(rice cake pounding) ceremony to ring in the new year. Photo: Russell Kitagawa.

 

February 19 marks the official beginning of the Year of the Sheep, according to the most common interpretation of the ancient lunar calendar that has been used throughout Asia for centuries. On that day, many Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese communities will hold their traditional New Year celebrations. For the Japanese, however, it will more or less be a day like any other.

Japan is unique among Asian countries in that it is the only one that celebrates New Year on January 1, like the Western world. This custom can be traced back to 1872, when the Meiji government decided to abolish the lunar calendar and adopt the Gregorian calendar, believing the latter to be scientifically superior.

The Meiji Era, which lasted from 1868 through 1912, was a period of rapid progress and sweeping Western influence in Japan, as the country began its transition from an isolated feudal society to a modern one of “enlightened rule.” For the Japanese citizens of the time, the lunar calendar was a symbol of the old ways; in fact, the modern Japanese word for Lunar or Chinese New Year is kyushogatsu, meaning “old or outdated new year.” Adopting the Gregorian calendar, which was in use throughout the trading nations of Europe and America, meant keeping in step with the times.

JANM visitors join in on the fun at Oshogatsu 2015. Photo: Richard Watanabe.
JANM visitors join in on the fun at Oshogatsu 2015. Photo: Richard Watanabe.

 

In spite of this outlook however, the Japanese have retained many of their cherished New Year traditions; they simply practice them during the days immediately before and after January 1. JANM’s Oshogatsu Festival, for example, takes place on the first Sunday after January 1. The festival adapts several popular New Year traditions for a large and diverse crowd, including pounding mochi, eating buckwheat noodles, and sampling special New Year dishes like kamaboko (fish cakes) and kuri kinton (puréed sweet potatoes).

JANM wishes everyone a Happy Lunar New Year. We look forward to welcoming you to our museum many times during the Year of the Sheep.

Members Get Perks at Oshogatsu Family Festival

2015-sheep-red-600x600px

It’s almost time for the Oshogatsu Family Festival, one of JANM’s biggest and most anticipated events of the year! On Sunday, January 4, the museum will be alive with festive arts and crafts, food, cultural activities, and performances. The programs last all day, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and are free to all visitors. (Note: admission to Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty, a specially ticketed exhibition, is not included.)

JANM members enjoy special perks at events like these. If you are a member, be sure to check in at the front desk and get your member sticker so you don’t miss out on the following:

12–2 p.m.: MEMBERS ONLY Osechi-Ryori Tasting
At this exclusive opportunity for JANM members, taste a selection of traditional Japanese new year foods—including various sweets and vegetables—and learn about the symbolism of each dish. Get in line early because the tasting will only last as long as supplies last!

12–5 p.m.: Double Raffle Tickets for Sheep Candy Sculptures
Shan Ichiyanagi will demonstrate the ancient, and now rarely practiced, Asian folk art of candy sculpting, as he makes candy in the shape of sheep. The finished pieces will be raffled off throughout the day. Members get double raffle tickets!

1–1:30 p.m.: Reserved Seating for Taikoza Performance
Taikoza, a group that uses traditional Japanese instruments to create an exciting contemporary sound, will present short performances on koto (zither) and shakuhachi (flute). Get to the Tateuchi Democracy Forum early to take advantage of specially reserved seats for members!

1–4 p.m.: Petting Zoo Members’ Express Line
Meet real live sheep and their goat friends at our Oshogatsu petting zoo, brought to you by Jessie’s Party Animals. Speed your kids through to the zoo by using the Members’ Express Line! (For children only. Line ends at 3:30 p.m.)

1–5 p.m.: Hello Kitty Members’ Express Line
Say “Hello!” and share a hug with Hello Kitty, the star of JANM’s exhibition Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty. Put smiles on your kids’ faces—our Members’ Express Line will get them to Hello Kitty faster!

3 p.m.: Reserved Seating for UniverSoul Hip Hop Performance
Watch an energetic performance from UniverSoul Hip Hop, a community-based group dedicated to educating and enriching youth by bringing hip hop dance and culture to K–12 classrooms. Members enjoy reserved seating in the Tateuchi Democracy Forum!

These are just some highlights of what to expect at the 2015 Oshogatsu Family Festival. A complete schedule is available at janm.org. To become a member or renew your membership, visit our membership page. See you in the new year!

Lucky Foods for Japanese New Year Celebrations

Kids enjoy traditional new year foods at JANM's 2013 Oshogatsu Family Festival. Photo: Caroline Jung.
Kids enjoy traditional new year foods at JANM’s
2013 Oshogatsu Family Festival. Photo: Caroline Jung.


One of the most important holidays celebrated in Japan is Oshogatsu, meaning “new year” in Japanese. A number of festive customs characterize Oshogatsu celebrations, including the preparation and eating of traditional new year foods called osechi-ryori.

Osechi-ryori are typically presented in ornate boxes called jubako. Each osechi dish has a special celebratory meaning. For example, kamaboko, or fish cakes, are placed in alternating rows of white and red, resembling the rising sun. Ebi are prawns cooked in sake and soy sauce; with their long beards and bent waists, prawns symbolize a wish for a long life. Kuri kinton, or puréed sweet potatoes kneaded with sugar, is an auspicious dish believed to bring wealth because the sweet potatoes look gold in color.

JANM volunteers work hard to prepare the osechi-ryori tasting every year.
JANM volunteers work hard to prepare the osechi-ryori tasting every year.

Another food-oriented new year custom is the making of rice cakes, or mochi. Although mochi is now commonly sold and eaten year-round, it is traditionally a Japanese new year food, made in a ceremony called mochitsuki. Boiled sticky rice is put into a wooden, bucket-like container and patted with water by one person while another person hits it with a large wooden mallet. Pounding the rice eventually forms it into a rice cake.

The mochi is then made into a decorative item called kagami mochi (sometimes called okasane), formed from two round mochi cakes with a Japanese orange (daidai) placed on top. The name daidai is auspicious because it also sounds like the Japanese phrase meaning “generation to generation,” evoking long life and the continuity of the generations. The mochi itself symbolizes the past year and the year to come; thus, kagami mochi signifies the continuity of the family over the years.

Lucky new year foods await JANM members at Oshogatsu!
Lucky new year foods await JANM
members at Oshogatsu!

Similarly, soba (buckwheat) noodles, with their strands that seem to go on forever, are also eaten for good luck and longevity. One must finish one’s bowl before midnight however, or face a year of bad luck!

JANM’s Oshogatsu Family Festival, happening on Sunday, January 4, 2015, adapts many of the customs associated with Japanese new year festivals. Featured activities include a special osechi-ryori tasting for members only, a soba noodle sampling, and a mochitsuki ceremony by Kodama Taiko that’s open to all. Bring the whole family and ring in the Year of the Sheep, JANM style!

This little girl is going to have good luck in the coming year.
This little girl is going to have good luck in the coming year.

Set Your New Year’s Resolutions with the Help of Daruma Dolls

Want a Daruma doll to help you set some 2015 goals? Join us for Oshogatsu on January 4th, where you can make one!
Want a Daruma doll to help you set some 2015 goals? Join us for Oshogatsu on January 4th, where you can make one!

 

The new year is almost upon us! What better time to set some goals and start hoping for a 2015 that is filled with good fortune and wishes come true?

In Japan, the Daruma doll is a traditional figure that helps people with their new year hopes. When a Daruma doll is new, it just has two white circles for eyes. The doll’s owner must make a wish or set a goal while drawing in one of the pupils. When the wish comes true or the goal is accomplished, the owner can fill in the second pupil, giving the doll a complete set of eyes.

Plenty of Darumas to be had in the Museum Store.
There are plenty of Darumas to choose from at the JANM Store.

 

This Daruma, situated in the JANM lobby, helps attract money to support the museum's programs.
This Daruma, placed in the JANM lobby, helps attract money to support the museum’s programs.

The Daruma doll was inspired by the Indian priest Bodhidharma, who founded Zen Buddhism in the 6th century BC. According to one version of the story, Bodhidharma sat in silent meditation for nine years without moving or blinking his eyes. This lack of movement caused him to lose the use of his arms and legs, which is why Daruma dolls don’t have limbs. Despite this fact, the dedicated priest continued to travel through China to spread his teachings; thus, the Daruma is seen as a symbol of determination and perseverance. If you try to push a Daruma over, he will spring right back up!

Perhaps you’ve seen Daruma dolls before. If not, all you have to do is take a look around Little Tokyo and chances are good that you will spot a Daruma or two… or more! The JANM Store is stocked full of Darumas just waiting for their new owners’ wishes and goals. You can even make your own by joining us for the Oshogatsu Family Festival on January 4, where I will be leading a Daruma doll-making craft table.

As you look around the exhibition Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty, be sure to keep an eye out for this little Hello Kitty Daruma!
When you visit the exhibition Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty, be sure to keep an eye out for this little Hello Kitty Daruma!

 

Even socks can be found in the Museum store.
These clever Daruma socks put good luck on your feet.

 

Can you spot Hello Kitty bobblehead's little Daruma friend?
Our Hello Kitty x JANM bobblehead even has a little Daruma friend to keep her company.

 

2014 Oshogatsu Family Festival Highlights!

Horses

On Sunday, January 5th, JANM rang in the New Year and the Year of the Horse with fun arts ‘n crafts, food, exciting cultural activities, and performances!

Oshogatsu Family Festival is one of JANM’s biggest events of the year, and we were glad to see so many guests come to join in on the fun. From folding a prancing horse origami, to jumping around in a horse bounce house, all of the activities celebrated the New Year and the Year of the Horse.

Thank you to all the JANM staff, volunteers, and friends who helped out at Oshogatsu Family Festival, and of course, thank you to all the guests for helping JANM kick off the New Year with a fun and exciting day!

Check out these photos from the 2014 Oshogatsu Family Festival (click on the thumbnails to see the full pictures):

 

Photo Credits: Richard Murakami, Caroline Jung, Russell Kitagawa, Richard Watanabe, and Tsuneo Takasugi

Check out more photos on our JANM Facebook page >>

*****

Don’t miss our next Target Free Family Saturdays: Aloha from Hawaii with KoAloha Ukulele on Saturday, February 8th from 11AM to 4PM. It’s FREE all day! Visit www.janm.org/target for more information.

Perks of being a JANM member: 2014 Oshogatsu Edition

Kodama Taiko Mochitsuki 7

JANM’s annual Oshogatsu Family Festival tomorrow is free and open to the public, however, JANM would like to show our members how special they are to us. From a gourmet food tasting to Member Express Lanes, JANM members will receive special perks this Sunday at the festival.

2013's Onigiri Design Contest WinnerFrom 12pm to 2pm Common Grains is sponsoring an Onigiri Design Contest where guests can learn how to make onigiri rice balls and enter the design contest. For this event JANM members can enter a Member Express Lane, to skip a longer wait in line.

This year JANM will have free pony rides for children in celebration of the Year of the Horse from 1pm to 5pm, and members can get in a Member Express Lane.

_DSC0098In addition to member express lanes JANM members will receive special perks throughout the day. From 1pm to 2pm there will be a gourmet osechi-ryori tasting for members only, where JANM members can sample traditional Japanese New Year foods.

Candy Sculptures - AudienceFrom 12pm to 5pm world-renowned candy artist Shan Ichiyanagi will make his specialty horse candy sculptures where JANM members can double their chances in a raffle for a candy sculpture after completing an Oshogatsu event survey.

Kodama Taiko Mochitsuki 6There will also be Member Reserved Seating for the 2:30pm and 4pm Kodama Taiko demonstrations of mochitsuki, a traditional rice cake pounding ceremony where free samples of mochi will be given out.

 

The Oshogatsu Family Festival will take place on Sunday, January 5th at the Japanese American National Museum from 11am to 5pm. For a full itinerary and for more information, please visit janm.org/oshogatsufest2014

Support the Museum and enjoy many perks as a JANM member, join/renew now! There will be a Membership table at Oshogatsu Family Festival, or click here for details or to join online >> 

Candy Sculptures with Shan Ichiyanagi

Candy Sculpture by Shan Ichiyanagi - Horse

Candy Sculpting is an ancient Asian folk art that originated in China and has been known in Japan for over 1,000 years. As a dying art, only a few performers exist in the world today.

Utilizing old Japanese scissors, Shan Ichiyanagi, a world-renowned candy artist, can magically transform a block of molten corn syrup into a beautiful sculpture of almost any shape and size, in just 4-5 minutes!

Visit Oshogatsu Family Festival on Sunday, January 5th to watch Shan Ichiyanagi make his amazing candy sculptures from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Shan  Ichiyanagi making a candy sculpture at the Japanese American National Museum in January 2013

In celebration of the festival’s theme, “Year of the Horse”, Shan Ichiyanagi will make his special horse candy sculptures. The candies will be for children only and will be raffled off throughout the day.

The festival will be from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free and open to the public. The day will be filled with fun arts & crafts, food, exciting cultural activities, and more! For more information, please visit: janm.org/oshogatsufest2014

Be sure to check our blog for more posts on specific activities scheduled for Oshogatsu Family Festival!

Read our interview with Shan Ichiyanagi on our Discover Nikkei website:

Shinobu Ichiyanagi – Master of Candy Crafts “Amezaiku” Artist who Captured American Heart with Traditional Japanese Performing Art
By Keiko Fukuda (English & Japanese)

 

Photo Credits: Shan Ichiyanagi and Daryl Kobayashi.

Osechi-ryori Tasting at JANM’s Oshogatsu Festival!

3 girls enjoying zaru soba at the 2013 Oshogatsu Family Festival
Young guests trying zaru soba at the 2013 Oshogatsu Family Festival

Celebrate the New Year with special New Year’s foods at the 2014 Oshogatsu Family Festival on Sunday, January 5th. It’s FREE all day from 11AM to 5PM!

Guests can learn how to make onigiri and submit their creative rice balls in an Onigiri Design ContestKidding around the Kitchen will provide the ingredients to make some lucky zaru soba (buckwheat noodles); and there will a mochitsuki demonstration by Kodama Taiko, where free samples will be handed out after each performance.

Not only is food a major component of JANM’s Oshogatsu Family Festival, but it is also a major component of traditional Japanese New Year celebrations. That’s why JANM has organized an Osechi-ryori tasting for the festival! Osechi-ryori are traditional Japanese New Year foods. The dishes that make up osechi each have a special meaning celebrating the New Year. Learn more about these dishes, and try them out for yourself at the festival!

There will be a general Osechi-ryori tasting from 12PM – 1PM, followed by a Members Gourmet Osechi-ryori tasting from 1PM – 2PM, which will be for JANM members only. Remember to get in line early because the tasting will only last as long as supplies last!

Stay tuned for more blog posts covering the special activities planned for Oshogatsu Family Festival!

Visit the Oshogatsu Family Festival page for the full schedule >>

Not a current member? Join/renew now >>

Onigiri Contest at JANM’s Oshogatsu Family Festival!

Onigiri Design Contest

On Sunday, January 5, 2014, JANM will once again be holding an Onigiri Design Contest at the annual Oshogatsu Family Festival!

2013's winning onigiriOnigiri are rice balls that are traditionally shaped into triangles and balls. However, onigiri can be pressed into many different shapes and decorated with all kinds of materials. Onigiri is made with plain rice and wrapped in nori (edible seaweed). Traditionally, the onigiri is filled with pickled salted plum fruit (umeboshi), salted salmon, bonito shavings, katsuobushi, or any other salty or sour ingredient.

From 12PM to 2PM learn how to make and decorate onigiri rice balls, and stick around until 3:30PM, when the Onigiri Design Contest winners will be announced.

2013's Onigiri Design Contest WinnerThe Onigiri Design contest will be sponsored by Common Grains, a project dedicated to providing people with a deeper understanding and appreciation for Japanese food and culture. Common Grains aims to share the traditions and pleasures of eating grains and vegetables within a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. For more information, please visit their website, commongrains.com.

Be sure to check our blog for more detailed posts of the activities planned for Oshogatsu Family Festival!

The Oshogatsu Family Festival will be from 11AM to 5PM and is free and open to the public. The day will be filled with fun arts & craftsfood, exciting cultural activities, and more! For the complete festival schedule, please visit janm.org/oshogatsufest2014.

See more photos from last year’s Onigiri Design Contest >>

Photo Credits: Daryl Kobayashi, and Russell Kitagawa