During the New-Years period here in Japan, many temples and shrines display Kadomatsu on the main entrance gates. You’ll also see them in front of private houses, businesses and the like. Another decoration that is associated with New-Year is Shimekazari, you’ll see them hanging above door posts or all over Japan. Here a little more about these decorations and their significance in Japanese tradition.
Kadomatsu: ( literally “gate pine”) is a traditional Japanese decoration of the New Year placed in pairs in front of homes to welcome ancestral spirits or kami of the harvest. They are placed after Christmas until January 7 (or January 15 during the Edo period) and are considered temporary housing (shintai) for kami. Designs for kadomatsu vary depending on region but are typically made of pine, bamboo, and sometimes ume tree sprigs which represent longevity, prosperity and steadfastness, respectively. “The fundamental function of the New Year ceremonies is to honour and receive the toshigami (deity), who will then bring a bountiful harvest for farmers and bestow the ancestors’ blessing on everyone.” After January 15 (or in many instances the 19th) the kadomatsu is burned to appease the kami or toshigami and release them.
The hanging of Shimekazari (しめ飾り) on top of the house entrance to prevent bad spirits from entering and to invite the Toshigami (歳神), or Shinto deity, to descend and visit. This traditional New Year decoration is made of shimenawa, a sacred Shinto straw rope, and other materials such as bitter oranges, ferns, and white ritual paper strips called shide.
Symbolism of Shimenawa: Shimenawa, the sacred braided straw rope used in a shimekazari decoration, holds deep meaning for the Japanese. When hung above the entryway of a site, it marks the border to pure space where the gods can descend, such as the entrance to a shrine precinct or a ritual site. The term shimenawa is the combination of shime, or items used in ancient times to symbolise ownership, and nawa, or rope, which was the most common way to mark an object or space.
See all photos of Kadomatsu here