January 24, 2013
This piece by Asako was originally posted on Les Chroniques Purple. It is the inaugural post of Walking on Boundaries, a series of monthly posts by Asako (or Asako & Dion) which, for the duration of 2013, will published on the 16th of each month by Les Chroniques Purple.
In Japan the first three days of the new year are days dedicated to the kami-sama—the deities that live in and around Japanese houses.
During December the house is cleaned and shimenawa (straw rope decorations) and kadomatsu (bamboo and pine decorations to be placed in front of the house) are made. Rice for mochi (rice cakes) is cooked and pounded. On the night of December 31st, in the fire-pit in the living space, or irori, a fire is set with a long log. This fire must be kept burning continuously for the first three days of the New Year. With all the preparations completed, the family sits down around the irori waiting for the new year to come. (It is said if you go to sleep too early on Dec. 31st, you age prematurely).
For the next three days (seven in some parts of Japan) the kami-sama occupy our world.
In the kitchen, there is Kamadogami. The kamado (a traditional earthen wood burning stove) is that very special place in the house where food is prepared daily to sustain the house’s occupants. Thus Kamadogami is the deity that protects the family and is also a symbol for the family’s prosperity. He/she has a rather rough temper but possesses strong miraculous powers. Treat this stubborn old one well for really nice favors or curses may be returned.
Ebisu-san hangs out in the living room, smiling. With six others Ebisu-san came by boat to Japan to bring happiness to the land. He is like a child’s favorite grandpa—the one who always gives them candies.
At the family altar there are ancestral spirits chitchatting and drinking sake. The gate to the house is guarded by Monshin, a bouncer type kami who prevents evil spirits from crashing the party. But Toshigami is an invited guest, coming from wherever he roams to join the party and eat mochi. When the party’s over Toshigami departs to continue on his travels.
Even in the toilet kami-sama dwell! This is where Auntie Kawayagami hangs out. The toilet is the sacred space where fertilizer is created to grow good vegetables, the space where death & birth meets (dead vegetables and animals digested and becoming the nourishment for new vegetables). Auntie Kawayagami can also help deliver healthy babies. But if you leave the toilet dirty she won’t be happy and will strike you with illness.
With the party finished all the new year’s decorations are burnt and the kami-sama ride the flames back to the other side. Some stay with the family in the house but they will live rather quietly until the new year rolls around again. And thanks to the kami-sama spring is now on the way.
- Asako Kitaori, January 2013