Kadomatsu (New Years pine decoration) (門松)

The kadomatsu (literally, gate pine) is a pair of displays made of pine and bamboo set up in places such as in front of houses during the New Year. It is also referred to as matsukazari (literally, pine decoration). The significance of the kadomatsu is that it is an object where the gods reside for welcoming the god of the incoming year home because the gods were believed to reside in treetops. Pine is not used in some areas, depending on the local traditions.

The present-day kadomatsu features bamboo in the middle, but its main part is pine as indicated in the name.

The kadomatsu stems originally from the popular custom of the 'Pine on the Day of the Rat,' in which nobles in the Heian period took pines home during the fondly-held event called the Komatsu-hiki (pulling out small pine trees on the first day of the Rat), and used them to pray for longevity. Even today, families of ancient lineage in the Kansai region partly follow the old custom, displaying small pines (with a simplified design of pine branches) with roots wrapped in Japanese paper on both sides of the house entrance, instead of the standard kadomatsu.

There are regional differences in the style of the kadomatsu. In the Kansai region, a set of three bamboo stalks is placed in the middle with a decoration of (red and white) ornamental cabbages at the front and young pine at the back, all tied with bamboo strips around the bottom. The more luxurious kadomatsu include trees such as old plum, nandina (heavenly bamboo), low striped bamboo called kumazasa, and yuzuriha (Daphniphyllum macropodum). For the standard kadomatsu in the Kanto region, relatively short young pine branches are placed around a set of three bamboo stalks in the middle, the bottom of which is tied with straw ropes.

There are two styles for the tip of the bamboo stalks: the diagonally sliced 'sogi' and the horizontally sliced 'zundo.'

According to popular belief, it was Ieyasu TOKUGAWA who created the 'sogi' after the Battle of Mikatagahara (1572), a battle known as his only ever defeat, swearing that he would slash his enemy Shingen TAKEDA next time.

In reality, the two forms seem to have originated from the fact that samurai families favored the old-fashioned zundo while ordinary people preferred the showy sogi that they had developed from the zundo.

Although generally the case for the Kansai region only, a bamboo stalk is diagonally cut so that the section includes the joint.

The shape is said to embody a smiling mouth.

Display Period
The event called 'Matsu-mukae' (literally, welcoming the pines) in which people climb mountains to collect pine trees (branches) is held around December 10. One theory holds that this invites Toshigami-sama (Toshitokujin) home from the mountains.

In some regions, they display the kadomatsu from as early as December 20. In most cases, however, the kadomatsu is placed outside after December 25 because people today celebrate events such as Christmas. It is believed that the kadomatsu should be placed before December 28 because to place the kadomatsu on December 29 means niju-ku (meaning double pain with the identical pronunciation as the number 29) or ku-matsu (waiting for pain) as the last (matsu) day ending 9 (ku) and also because to place it on December 30 or 31 is called 'ichiya-kazari' (one-night display) or 'ichinichi-kazari' (one-day display), meaning to treat the gods lightly.

In many regions the display of the kadomatsu ends on the evening of January 6 and a display period until January 7 to match with the 'Nanuka-shogatsu' (celebration of the seventh day of the New Year) is called the 'Matsu no Uchi;' but the display period varies from region to region, as some regions display the kadomatsu until the Little New Year of January 15.

How to Obtain
Flower shops, hardware stores, gardening companies and builders create the kadomatsu, and some of them even offer a full service of setting and removing it.

The average cost of receiving these services per pair of kadomatsu ranges from ten to fifty thousand yen (the more formal the kadomatsu is, the more expensive it will be).

Incidentally, the kadomatsu can not be reused the following year since it requires fresh flowers.

Current State
Fewer people put up full-scale kadomatsu such as those seen in pictures probably due to a combination of concerns regarding the destruction of nature, environmental issues such as the used kadomatsu after the display period, the difficulty in obtaining straws and other materials, and the change in the social environment such as in the development of apartment buildings.

As small kadomatsu of group planting style aimed at the average families hit the store shelves at the end of the year, some people put up this type of kadomatsu. For a simplified version of kadomatsu, a well-formed young pine, around which a bow of the decorative Japanese cord made from twisted paper in red and white or in gold and silver is tied, is attached to places such as gateposts, and has become popular for its ease of use.

In the commercial sector, full-scale kadomatsu are usually put up only by certain businesses such as large-scaled department stores or pachinko (Japanese pinball) parlors probably because many stores open on January 2 for the New Year sales; additionally, they are also often placed in front of office buildings that are almost deserted during the New Year holidays. A lot of stores such as grocery stores only display posters with New Year's greetings which include the words 'Gasho' (Happy New Year!) or 'Kinga-shinnen' (I wish you a happy New Year) and pictures such as a kadomatsu, a crane, a tortoise, a sunrise, or the like. Some of the stores which open on New Year's Day do not even display these posters.

Waka (traditional Japanese poetry)
The waka 'the kadomatsu is a milestone for the trip to the world of the dead, so it may or may not be happy' is said to have been written by Ikkyu Sojun, but some people maintain that his close courtesan Jigoku Dayu wrote it for him.

Theories of the Origin of Kadomatsu

According to a theory, the custom of bringing pine home in the new year days started during the Heian period and the present-day style of displaying the kadomatsu at the entrance was adopted during the Muromachi period.

[Original Japanese]