New Year’s Series Part 5 – The Finale: Shishimai & Daruma!

UPDATE 1/10/14: Due to extreme flooding Oshogatsu has been postponed until Sunday, January 19, 2014. If you have already purchased tickets you will receive an email with details about your purchase. Otherwise, you may still purchase tickets online until Friday, January 17th at noon. We apologize for any inconvenience and hope to see you all there next Sunday!

As our last piece of the New Year’s series (don’t miss part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4) we wanted to tell you about two of the most popular and widely known traditions of the Japanese New Year – Shishimai, the Lion Dance, and Daruma. These two are among the most recognizable elements of the Japanese New Year and our annual celebration: Oshogatsu.

Shishimai

Shishimai is the traditional Lion Dance performed during New Year’s celebrations all over Japan. The tradition originated in China, but has spread throughout Japan as a New Year’s staple as well as a popular dance at Shinto Shrines during other celebrations. The lion costume is made of a wood and lacquer head called a shishi-gashira which literally means lion head, and the body is made of green dyed cloth with white designs. The lion can be manipulated by a single person, or two people, and as with Chinese lions, the make of the head and designs on the body will differ from region to region.

In Okinawa, a similar dance exists, though the lion there is quite different than the shishi of mainland Japan. Instead of dancing to the sounds of flutes and taiko drums (like he does at Oshogatsu), the Okinawan shisa dance is often performed to folk songs played with the sanshin.

Get a taste of this lively dance, and some other Oshogatsu activities in our video below:

Daruma

Daruma is also a very important and recognizable figure for the New Year. The original Daruma, also called Bodhidharma, was a Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th/6th century CE. He is traditionally regarded as its first Chinese patriarch and the father of Zen Buddhism.

Later, monks began designing dolls as symbols of Daruma, and these dolls are now regarded as a symbol of good luck, especially for the new year. It’s common to give a Daruma doll as a gift, then the giftee colors in one eye of the doll and makes a wish or sets a goal. Once the wish or goal is complete Daruma’s other eye can be colored in. In this way, every time the recipient sees the one-eyed Daruma, he/she recalls the goal. It’s sometimes said that Daruma-san is motivated to grant your wish, because you promise to give him full sight once the goal is accomplished.

At Oshogatsu you can take part in this tradition too! At our DIY Daruma wall you can write a wish or goal, and color in one of Daruma’s eyes. Then you can come back next year and give him full sight if your wish or goal comes true. We’ll also have last year’s Daruma Wall up for you to check in on your 2013 wishes and goals.

We hope to see you all at Oshogatsu this Sunday – and remember: discounted tickets are on sale ONLY until Saturday at noon, after that tickets will be $10 for kids and $15 for adults at the gate. Happy New Year, and have a wonderful Year of the Horse!

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New Year’s Series Part 3 – Special Episode of Vlogs with Veljko: Nengajo

UPDATE 1/10/14: Due to extreme flooding Oshogatsu has been postponed until Sunday, January 19, 2014. If you have already purchased tickets you will receive an email with details about your purchase. Otherwise, you may still purchase tickets online until Friday, January 17th at noon. We apologize for any inconvenience and hope to see you all there next Sunday!

 

Our New Year’s series is back with a special episode of Vlogs with Veljko. This week we’ll let our Curator of Collections do the talking about one Japanese New Year’s tradition that you can get in on yourself: Nengajo!

Stop by Morikami to make your own New Year’s card now through December 31st (it’s FREE with paid museum admission!) For now, take a look at some of Veljko’s favorite cards, and get some history (or maybe a little inspiration for your own card).

You can also join us for a day chock full of Japanese New Year’s traditions – Oshogatsu! Get details and tickets on the event site. And don’t forget to check back next week for our next New Year’s topic! See you then 🙂

Delicious Eats & a Taste of the Rice Pounding Ceremony – Part 2 of Our New Year’s Series

UPDATE 1/10/14: Due to extreme flooding Oshogatsu has been postponed until Sunday, January 19, 2014. If you have already purchased tickets you will receive an email with details about your purchase. Otherwise, you may still purchase tickets online until Friday, January 17th at noon. We apologize for any inconvenience and hope to see you all there next Sunday!

 

With Part 2 of our New Year’s Blog series we want to talk about one of our favorite parts of any celebration – you guessed it – the food. Food plays an important part in celebrating the Japanese New Year; from Mochitsuki, rice-pounding to make mochi cakes, to special New Year’s eats, there’s a lot to taste and try when you visit us during Oshogatsu.

NEW YEAR’S FOODS

There are a few foods that are important symbols of good luck and happiness for the New Year. These special New Year’s foods are called osechi-ryori, and are traditionally packed in layered lacquer boxes called jubako, which are similar to bento boxes. The dish depends on the area, but some common dishes include kuromame (simmered black soy beans), kurikinton (mashed sweet potato with sweet chestnuts), tazukuri (candied dried sardines), renkon (lotus roots) and shrimp.

Each dish and ingredient holds meaning. Some dishes are said to bring good health, others a good harvest, happiness, prosperity, longevity, etc. Traditionally, yellow dishes and ingredients such as kazunoko (herring roe) symbolize prosperity, while mame (beans) are for good health. Usually, people make osechi dishes by New Year’s Eve to last through the first few days of the year so that they won’t have to cook during the celebration days.

At Morikami we’ll serve our own take on a few of these New Year’s flavors, as well as traditional mochi cakes straight from our the rice pounding ceremony. (We’ll also serve a few familiar American festival favorites.) No matter what, there will be plenty to taste!

NEW YEAR’S EATS AT OSHOGATSU

This year, as a special treat, the Cornell Café will serve a dish called chirashizushi. Traditionally, this is a festive dish served on special occasions, and loosely translates to “scattered sushi.” Ours includes tuna and salmon sashimi with shrimp, snow peas, carrots and a symbol of longevity in the new year – an origami crane. On festival grounds we’ll offer some other New Year’s eats like soba noodles and coconut shrimp!

Soba is a traditional noodle dish, made from buckwheat noodles in a hot soup, and symbolizes wishes for good luck in the year ahead. Shrimp is also an important symbolic food for New Year’s and is believed to promote longevity. Some say this is because shrimp have curved backs like the very elderly. Check out our food page as the event gets closer for more on what we’ll be serving up as well as full menus.

THE RICE POUNDING CEREMONY

Mochitsuki—the rice pounding ceremony – is essential to Oshogatsu, and is one of our favorite parts of the festivities. Traditionally, mochitsuki begins the day before by soaking the mochigome (sweet rice paste). The next day, the mochigome is ready to be steamed in the seiro (a wooden steaming frame) and then put into the usu, a large mortar made from wood, stone or concrete. The hot rice paste is then pounded with a kine ,a big wooden hammer, until smooth and shiny.

One of the most exciting parts of mochisutki is watching the cooperation between the person pounding and the person assisting (who quickly darts his or her hand into the usu and turns the rice before the next rhythmic pound of the hammer). It takes some coordination to get it right, but once the mochi is smooth and consistent in texture it’s placed onto a mochiko (sweet rice flour) covered surface, and small portions are pinched off, formed into balls, flattened and then set aside to cool until ready to eat.

At Morikami we perform the rice-pounding ceremony a few times throughout the day in order for everyone to get a chance to see and participate in the spectacle.

Tune in next week for a special New Year’s edition of Vlogs With Veljko where he’ll tell us about a very special Japanese New Year’s tradition- Nengajo!

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Introducing the Year of the Horse!

UPDATE 1/10/14: Due to extreme flooding Oshogatsu has been postponed until Sunday, January 19, 2014. If you have already purchased tickets you will receive an email with details about your purchase. Otherwise, you may still purchase tickets online until Friday, January 17th at noon. We apologize for any inconvenience and hope to see you all there next Sunday!

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It’s that time of year, fans, where we gather together with family and friends, reflect on the year that has passed and look forward to the one to come. The holiday season can be a blur of activity, but it all culminates in one of our favorite events – Oshogatsu: A New Year’s Celebration!

The New Year is Japan’s most important and celebrated holiday, and many traditions and activities are included in the festivities. To get you prepared for our upcoming New Year’s festival, we’ll be explaining one or two of these traditions each Friday until January 12th. Check back each week to learn more about what makes Oshogatsu so special, and how we’ll interpret these traditions at the festival.

The Zodiac

Every year is named after one of the zodiac animals, and this year we celebrate the Year of the Horse for those born in 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, and 2014.  The zodiac was introduced to Japan from China and there are several tales of how the animals were selected and in what order. One of the most popular stories finds Buddha calling all the animals of the world to come to him on New Year’s Day. As a reward, he promises each one a gift. Only 12 animals came and each one was given the honor of having a year named for them. Their arrival time marks their esteemed position in the twelve-year cycle, with the rat always first and the boar forever last.

The Year of the Horse

People born in the same zodiac year are thought to share some of the same characteristics. Those born in the year of the horse are said to be skillful in paying compliments and in handling money and financial matters. They are also supposed to be talkative, quick thinkers, wise and talented. Horse people may also anger easily and be impatient.

For the upcoming year of the horse, we’d like to introduce you to our Oshogatsu mascot – Uma! We made an origami version of Uma to show her off to you, so follow us on Vine to check it out, or scroll down to see how to make an Uma of your own.

See you back here Friday, 12/20 when we’ll talk about Mochitsuki  – the rice pounding ceremony!

horse origami

Ōmisoka

Pictured above: mochitsuki or "rice pounding" at the Morikami during Oshogatsu, the annual New Year festival

by: Reiko Nishioka, Director of Education 

Ōmisoka is the last day of the year. It is a significant and also very busy day when families make final preparations for the New Year, Oshogatsu.  The preparation starts in the middle of December. Temples, shrines and many homes do a thorough house cleaning. Its purpose is to cleanse one’s mind and home of the past year’s accumulation of dust, dirt and soot. Toward the end of the year, businesses and organizations have a party called Bōnen-kai, which means a forget-the-year party. It is a year-end social gathering. Families start preparing special New Year foods and make mochi by pounding steamed rice and forming it into small cakes known as mochitsuki. (The Morikami will pound mochi at its Oshogatsu, New Year event January 9, 2011.)

Omisoka

Growing up in Japan, I could not wait to see the “Kōhaku Utagatsen” New Year Eve program, the most watched TV show of the year. It is a team singing contest between the most popular male and female singers each year. The program has been running for more than 50 years and has become an annual Ōmisoka event.

At the stroke of midnight, kane bells at the temples throughout the country ring 108 times. This is called joya no kane. I would stay up to watch joya no kane on TV and eat soba noodles. When we hear joya no kane, people stop their busy activities and calmly welcome the New Year.

Here’s a quiz for readers! Why do Japanese temple bells ring 108 times and why do people eat soba noodles on Ōmisoka?  The first person with the correct answer gets a pair of tickets to Oshogatsu!

Reiko Remembers The Meaning of Japan’s True New Year

This blog is written by the Morikami’s Director of Education Reiko (pronounced “Lay-ko”) Nishioka, who is native Japanese and later moved to the United States. In 2010, she will contribute to “More Morikami…” and share her cultural inspirations and memories. Happy New Year!

I was asked to write about my favorite holiday/celebration by a local magazine several years ago. I chose Oshogatsu, the Japanese New Year celebration, even though I have been living in the U.S. for more than 30 years. I miss it dearly, although I work at the Morikami and celebrate Oshogatsu with visitors every year.  (The 2010 festival will be held January 10, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.)

In Japan, the New Year is celebrated for three days, from January 1 through 3.  So when December 31 approaches, people become very busy. They clean and decorate their houses, cook meals for the time of holidays, pound rice for mochi (rice cake), write greeting cards and attend year-end parties. There is one more, very important thing that Japanese traditionally do at the end of the year, and that is clearing away all debts and obligations. PHEW!

Lots of effort is given in preparation for the New Year, but on December 31 at midnight, the above activities stop. Bells at all temples ring 108 times which, according to the Buddhist religion, symbolize human desires. The last peal drives the desires away, and the new year is greeted in a pure condition.

What I like about the Oshogatsu observance is the symbolism of time. Graduations, weddings or retirements are lifetime experiences; they are “knots” of life. Japanese call these fushi, like the knots of bamboo. This is where the significant border between the old and the new, and the symbolism of time, lie. For example, yesterday was December 31 and the end of the year; today is January 1, and everything is treated new, like a new “knot.” A lot of people go to see the first sunrise; we even cherish the first dream of the new year. Whatever we do, we call it the “first …..of the year.” Oshogatsu is the time to renew.

My memory of Oshogatsu is quiet and calm during the three days of observance. Stores are closed, and there is no cooking as meals have been prepared in advance. Therefore, we have enough time to reflect on the past year and make a wish or set a goal for the upcoming year.

Oh, how I miss the quiet of those three days!

Families watch "shishimai," or the lion dancer, at Oshogatsu, the New Year's celebration; Jan. 10, 2010 at the Morikami