I have a little extra time during the holidays so I thought I would show a few Japanese New Year's traditions and give some context for those of you who are interested.
Yesterday I showed you the nebikimatsu, which is a traditional New Year's decoration for Kyoto homes. Here we see something similar in this old rice field in Iwakura, the northern part of Kyoto where I live. These, however, are a little more mysterious. I have had very little luck finding detailed information about this tradition, and I am beginning to wonder if it is perhaps just a custom of the Iwakura part of Kyoto. But here is what I know:
Unlike the nebikimatsu, which I showed yesterday, these are decorated with fern leaves and a sacred rice-straw rope, and they do not have the root still attached. They are placed (but not planted) in the corner of rice fields at New Years to ask the god Oinarisama (お稲荷様) to bless the fields for the coming year. Their location appears to depend upon geomancy, since I have usually found them in the northeast corner. The Japanese call the northeast "kimon" (鬼門), which translates as the "devil's gate" because it is believed to be the direction from which evil enters the mortal world. It is precisely for this reason that Kyoto was chosen as an auspicious location for the capital more than 1,000 years ago: its northeast is protected by the imposing Mt. Hiei (比叡山), and the ancient Buddhist temple of Enryakuji (延暦寺) was also placed on Mt. Hiei to add further defense for the city. I assume, then, that these little pines are similarly placed in the northeast to provide the field protection since the god Oinarisama is also believed to be a powerful guard against the demons of the northeast. But then I found the little pine in this photo in the north-west corner .... That is the first time I have seen this, and all the others I have seen this year have been in the northeast.
Interestingly, I have only found these decorations in rice fields, but never in fields used to grow other crops. I have looked extensively on the web in Japanese and English but have come up with almost nothing. I have also asked my mother-in-law who grew up in the countryside on a rice farm outside of Kyoto city, but she had never seen this either. I have never yet been fortunate enough to meet a farmer at this time of year whom I could ask. Perhaps you know ... (読んでくれる方が分かりますか。) But seeing these decorative little pines always gives me pleasure, because it shows that the field will not yield itself just yet to still more ugly housing developments, and will provide us with another year's bounty of nutrition and beauty.
This is the last of the New Year's images I will post, though there are still hundreds of fascinating traditions still to show. Perhaps next year. Thank you for taking time to read all these explanations! I hope you enjoyed these little glimpses into what is the most important holiday of the Japanese calendar. Tomorrow I will begin showing you some of the magnificent snowfall we received right at the end of 2010...