Greeting 2020 with Kadomatsu

明けましておめでとうございます!

Happy New Year!

Now that 2020 is upon up, there is much to look forward to in the new year. To get off at a good start, I’ll start off with a post about a tradition connect to new years in Japan.

The 2 center pieces in the picture above are called “kadomatsu” (門松), which translates as “pine decoration by the gates”. More than just decoration, it is part of an old tradition where people would put these in front of their gates or by their doors to attract prosperity and fortune throughout the year from the deity called “Toshigami” (年神). Depending on the area in Japan, people would place the kadomatsu as early as the end of Christmas, to around the start of the oshōgatsu (お正月), or new year in Japanese. This will stay out until seven days after the new year. This goes in accordance to the week-long break everyone has in order to celebrate oshōgatsu in Japan.

The history of kadomatsu is old, with its roots going as far back as ancient China. Originally it starts off with simply matsu, or pine. Pine is resilient during the winter and retains its deep green color. For that, it is seen as a symbol of longevity, and is used at shrines for the sake of worshiping different deities. It would later be combined with take, or bamboo, around the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333). Nowadays, it is widely used in front of people’s gates, around the doorway of homes, and the entrances of business establishments. Historically there are different designs and sizes of the kadomatsu, making it that there is no one predominant look that must be followed.

Matsu (pine) and take (bamboo) have a high value in Japan, as there are many beliefs of blessings people can receive from them. This is because as plants they display strong characteristics, and possess long-lasting lifespan. It’s reasons like these that the kadomatsu, a combination of the two, represents “longevity”.

There is a saying related to the kadomatsu, which goes as so:

「松は千歳を契り、竹は万代を契る」
“Matsu wa senzai wo chigiri, take wa manyo wo chigiru”

Literal translation is “Pine grants one thousand years, while bamboo grants thousands of years”, but the actual meaning is wishing for an eternal life filled with good fortune. It’s believed that a person can receive this if their kadomatsu is successful as a yorishiro (deity medium) in attracting the Toshigami to reside inside it.

For my family, we brought ours out at the start of new years, and keep them inside our house near the door.

The Practice of Seibutsu Kisetsu

Japan is often recognized for its long culture of deep connection to nature. This can be seen through its influence on how things are labeled in the past, or how it’s presented in haiku and ukiyoe. In modern times, this attention to nature is still preserved. One way this is demonstrated is through phenology to monitor the behavior of climate and seasonal changes, and the effects this has on living things. In Japanese this is called “Seibutsu Kisetsu” (生物季節).

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A modern phelonomy dial (現代生物季節ダイヤル). The sections with numbers indicate the months within a year and their seasonal phases. The living things that wrap around in the dial are lined up accordingly to the months they are active. A rather older version of the phelonomy dial, this has many more entries (i.e. types of fish, fruits, vegetables). From the publication “Kishō Nenkan” (issue number unknown).

The practice of monitoring the seasonal effects on the weather, and how living things’ behavior corresponds to this is not only unique to Japan. Interestingly, keeping accurate data in accordance to phenology is treated with a standard of importance; while Seibutsu Kisetsu is an old tradition, the actual recording of this is fairly new. Started in 1953, observation groups (called Seibutsu Kisetsu Kansoku [生物季節観測] in Japanese) were established in different parts of Japan, which contribute on a regular basis each year. Through the use of meteorology (気象庁 kishōchō), key data on timing and behavior of living things in accordance to the weather conditions and how habitats are affected are recorded. This became even more of a necessity due to global warming.

The types of living things monitored was pretty extensive earlier on, but over the years the lists have become streamlined. Currently, vegetation and animals are categorized in Seibutsu Kisetsu, with vegetation including herbs, plants, flowers and trees, while animals consists primarily of birds, insects, and cold-blooded animals. Two categories on the types of living things prevalent in Japan were made: one is the regulated types, and the other is the selective types. The regulated types are those that can be found in any part of Japan, while the selective types are those that can be found only in specific areas.

Photos of living creatures that are Regulated Types. Click on each one for more descriptions.

Based off of recordings by observation groups, data is constantly compiled annually, consisting of detailed info regarding each of the living creatures’ patterns in Japan since the conception of this system. For example, the specific time when certain flowers began to bloom within each prefecture, or when certain birds migrate from one location to another, are recorded exactly. Each observation group make this information public in their own ways, usually through their own websites. This data is also compiled into a database and maintained by the Japanese Meteorological Agency, which is viewable online.

Photos of living creatures that are Regulated Types. Click on each one for more descriptions.

Here are the current lists of living creatures recorded for the purpose of Seibutsu Kisetsu in Japan. They are separated based on the 2 categories used in the organization process.

– Regulated Types –

Vegetation

  • Ume (梅) – Japanese Apricot
  • Tsubaki (椿) – Common Camellia
  • Tanpopo (タンポポ) – Dandelion
  • Sakura (桜) – Cherry Blossom
  • Yamatsutsuji (ヤマツツジ) – Rhododendron Kaempferi (species of rhododendron)
  • Nodafuji (野田藤) – Japanese Wisteria
  • Yamahagi (山萩) – Shrubby Lespedeza
  • Ajisai (紫陽花) – Bigleaf Hydrangea
  • Sarusuberi (百日紅) – Crape Myrthle
  • Susuki (薄) – Japanese Pampas Grass
  • Ichō (イチョウ) – Gingko
  • Kaede (楓) – Maple (Tree)

Animals

  • Hibari (雲雀) – Skylark
  • Uguisu (鶯) – Japanese Bush Warbler
  • Tsubame (燕) – Swallow
  • Monshiro Chō (紋白蝶) – Small Cabbage White Butterfly
  • Kiageha (黄揚羽) – Old World Swallowtail (Papilio hippocrates)
  • Tonosama Gaeru (殿様蛙) – Black-Spotted Pond Frog
  • Shiokara Tonbo (塩辛蜻蛉) – Common Skimmer
  • Hotaru (蛍) – Firefly
  • Abura Zemi (油蝉) – Large Brown Cicada
  • Higurashi (蜩) – Evening Cicada
  • Mozu (鵙) – Shrike

– Selective Types –

Vegetation

  • Suisen (水仙) – Daffodil
  • Sumire (菫) – Violet
  • Shirotsume-Kusa (白詰草) – White Clover
  • Yamabuki (山萩) – Shrubby Bushclover
  • Ringo (林檎) – Apple
  • Kaki (柿) – Japanese Persimmon
  • Nashi (梨) – Japanese/Asian Pear
  • Momo (桃) – Peach
  • Kikyō (桔梗) – Chinese Bellflower
  • Higanbana (彼岸花) – Red Spider Lily
  • Sazanka (山茶花) – Sasanqua
  • Deigo (デイゴ/梯姑) – Erythrina Variegata
  • Teppō Yuri (鉄砲百合) – Easter Lily
  • Lilac (ライラック)
  • Tulip (チューリップ)
  • Kuri (栗) – Chestnut
  • Higanzakura (彼岸桜) – Higan Cherry
  • Ōshimazakura (大島桜) – Ōshima Cherry
  • Anzu (杏子) – Apricot
  • Kuwa (桑) – Mulberry
  • Shiba (柴) – Brushwood
  • Karamatsu (唐松) – Larch
  • Cha (茶) – Tea (plant)
  • Shidare Yanagi (枝垂れ柳) – Weeping Willow

Animals

  • Tokage (蜥蜴) – Lizard
  • Akiakane (秋茜) – Red Dragonfly
  • Sashiba (差羽) – Gray-Faced Buzzard
  • Haruzemi (春蝉) – Spring Cicada
  • Kakkō (郭公) – Common Cuckoo
  • Enma Koorogi (エンマコオロギ) – Oriental Field Cricket
  • Tsukutsuku Bōshi (つくつく法師) – Meimna Opalifera (species of cicada)
  • Min-min Zemi (ミンミンゼミ) – Robust (Mingming) Cicada
  • Nii-nii Zemi (ニイニイゼミ) – Kaempfer Cicada
  • Kuma Zemi (熊蝉) – Type of Southeastern Asian Cicada
  • Kusa Zemi (草蝉) – Genus Mogannia (a type of Cicada)
  • Nihon Amagaeru (日本雨蛙) – Japanese Tree Frog

For those interested, here are some sources regarding Seibutsu Kisetsu (phenology) in Japan that are regularly updated:

Japan Meteorologic Agency (JMA): http://www.data.jma.go.jp/sakura/data/index.html

Seibutsu Kisetsu Kansoku Database (Real Time): http://agora.ex.nii.ac.jp/cps/weather/season/