Of all ceremonial occasions in Japan, the new year is said to be the oldest.
In the last days of the old year, homes, offices and shops are festooned with rope garlands and kadomatsu — standing arrangements of pine, bamboo and apricot blossoms — to welcome the god of the new year. The deity is often associated with rice cultivation, ensuring that the rice harvest will be abundant and that families will enjoy good health in the coming year. Since it is traditionally believed that during the new year the god resides in rice ears, pines and ropes made from rice straw, decorations are often fashioned from those materials. On this page, stylist Tamiho Yokose and floral artists Ikuko Yamashita and Mikako Ichimura introduce their distinctive approaches to making classic new year arrangements with a contemporary twist.
Traditional materials for today
After Ikuko Yamashita opened Flower Art and Arrangement Tsubaki in 2014, she began giving lessons in new year wreath-making.
At her workshops, she teaches participants how to make attractive new year decorations using rice-straw rope in a style that complements today’s interiors. The residential entryway (above right) is flanked by simple ornaments of bundled rice straw harvested before the grains have ripened and smartly tied with mizuhiki paper cords (¥60,000 for a set of two). Pine boughs symbolizing the divine spirit are inserted into the cords for a crisp, modern composition that radiates strength.
Yakumo 4-3-5, Meguro-ku, Tokyo; store visits by appointment only; closed Sun.; firstname.lastname@example.org; tsubaki-tokyo.jp
Decor from a hallowed forest
Kashimo Forest, which includes a preserve for trees grown to supply the wood for the ceremonial rebuilding of the Grand Shrines of Ise every 20 years, covers the eastern part of Gifu Prefecture, where it borders Nagano Prefecture.
The Tono cypress that grows there is used not only at Ise but also at Horyuji temple, Ginkakuji temple, Himeji Castle and other historic structures. The wood was also used to restore the Honmaru Goten palace of Nagoya Castle. The prevailing concept at Kashimo Forest is “let the forest flourish through the ages.” Planting and felling of the trees are carefully planned to preserve an environment conducive to sustaining plant and animal life and clean groundwater.
Floral artist Mikako Ichimura is particularly fond of this forest and has used its cypress and cedar in her creations for many years. For her new year greenery fan, she binds cedar and cypress boughs together with hemp cord and accents them with mochibana — little balls of mochi rice cake — as well as mizuhiki cords. Whether displayed at the front door or hung on a wall, this fragrant ornament will freshen the air with its bracing scent. In a different vein, Ichimura’s festive flower and greenery spheres consist of a globe of cedar and cypress foliage topped by another globe of roses and dahlias and a trailing “tail” of two varieties of creeping moss, giving off an invigorating yet restful aura.
Palace Aoyama 606, Minamiaoyama 6-1-6 Minato-ku, Tokyo; midorinoibasho.jp
Getting with the new year spirit
Taking time out from the busy year-end season to wax creative in new year preparations can offer unparalleled pleasure.
Tamiho Yokose likes to create unique tableaux that bring together made-to-order items by different artists. This time the theme is silver: silver-colored chopsticks on a silver tablecloth, topped off by stackable glass boxes with specially ordered silver lids that add an entirely new accent to the more familiar items on Yokose’s table. The flat lids can also be used as small serving dishes. Hand-tying pine needles to make chopstick rests like those by Tsubaki’s Ikuko Yamashita will add an equally distinctive touch to your holiday spread. Decorating your home to welcome the spirit of the new year is a way of inviting good fortune for the year to come. Try it and see!
Naoko Ando contributed the text for this article. Orders for Ikuko Yamashita’s chopstick rests and entryway decor from Tsubaki are open until Dec. 24.
For more insight into Japan’s culture, arts and lifestyle, visit int.kateigaho.com.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.