In the Garden
Rick Barboza

Strict rules govern
the kadomatsu

The ending of the current year and the beginning of the new is celebrated in many ways. The Japanese have captured this celebration by incorporating various plant materials and decorations to commemorate this passing.

One well-known decoration is the kadomatsu, composed of pine, bamboo and a flowering or fruiting branch. Bamboo represents strength, pine signifies longevity, and the fruiting branch, prosperity. The significance of these elements is vital to all who welcome the New Year. It is this unity of basic elements that brings hope that the new year will be a good one.


The kadomatsu must be composed in all parts of odd numbered representations, the common being three bamboo stalks, cut at a slant and of various heights. The opening of the bamboo must remain free and open to allow the spirits to enter. The cuts are made at a slant to allow the largest open surface area. The bamboo must also be cut upright with buds pointing toward the heavens.

Pine inserted into the bindings that hold the bamboo is also represented by odd-numbered counts in each triangle segment, as are the fruiting/flowering branch inserted into the front two segments. This branch may consist of ume (plum), momoki (winterberry) or nanten (Nandina). Fruiting branches may include kumquat, mandarins, persimmon, plum, etc. Other materials include magnolia, eucalyptus and lotus.

In old days, the kadomatsu was made only by men. The strength to cut the bamboo, tie a set together and combine the components was considered good luck if entirely done by men. This effort and art was believed to make the kadomatsu more powerful and lucky!

THE DOOR PINE stands in front of the most frequently used entrance to the home. The bamboo legs must come in contact with the foundation of the home. A table, basket or container holding the bamboo is considered bad luck and should be avoided when placing your kadomatsu outside. It should never enter the home.

The proper period to keep your kadomatsu has the change in year as its center point. For instance, if you set your kadomatsu five days before the end of the year, it must be taken down and burned five days into the new year. Burning your kadomatsu is important to release these elements as offerings to the gods. Keeping your kadomatsu longer than prescribed will result in bad luck.

A local version of the kadomatsu uses a pair of bamboo and pine (usually ironwood) tied together and placed on either side of the door. This originally had a third component but was lost over time due to scarcity of the item. Crotons were usually in flower at this time, and branches of colorful leaves and flowers were also tied together with this grouping to signify the three elements of good fortune. Today, remnants consisting of just the pine and bamboo are most often used.

FOOD OFFERINGS ARE also an important ritual. The common site is the tower of mochi with a tangerine at the top. This tower sits upon a Moroba and on top of a color-printed paper of a fat bald man or a boat of old bald men or even a red fish. The Moroba consists of a hardy fern leaf, bamboo leaf and eucalyptus leaf tied together. This signifies unity in the family while sending thanks for a bountiful year and a more abundant year to come. Other offerings include a shrine with a fish (if you're a fisherman), daikon root and top (if you're a farmer).

Flowers play an important role in the coming of the new year. Remembering ancestors is important, and this is a time of year when grave sites are adorned with flowers and food offerings.

Flowers also fill homes, since a bountiful display helps to attract spirits that bring riches and prosperity.

Years ending with the number 5 are usually referred to as "rice years," so rice stalks are incorporated into kadomatsu designs and offerings. Loose rice can be sprinkled over deeds and stock certificates to ensure prosperity and high-yielding returns. Giving someone a bag of rice is like giving them gold in these years.

Today, arrangements combining color, long-lasting flowers and pine and bamboo as greenery are mainstays. Who knows how tomorrow's kadomatsu will look? In Japan today, consumers can purchase artificial plastic pine and bamboo kadomatsu at their local grocery. In Hawaii, people prefer to keep it real.

"In the Garden" is a Friday feature. Michael Miyashiro owns Rainforest at Ward Warehouse. Contact him at 591-9999 or e-mail rainforesthawaii@aol.com

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