I’ve always wondered what these decorations represent in Japan. They are usually placed in pairs in front of office buildings around the end of December till the beginning of January. After reading more about it, I learned that these decorations are known as ‘Kadomatsu’ ( 門松 ), meaning ‘gate pine’ and is used to celebrate New Year in Japan. They come in a variety of designs and sizes. What’s interesting is that each design varies according to the local area. Main materials in the decorations are pines and bamboos.
In the olden Japanese customs, people believed that a divine spirit ( 神 ) dwelled in evergreen. If they placed an evergreen decoration in front of their homes or farms in the beginning of the year, the divine spirit would keep their homes and farms safe during the year. Among the variety of trees, pine was believed to be the common dwellings of the divine spirit. Therefore, pine is often used in the decorations nowadays. Pine is related to vitality and longevity while bamboo is related to strength and growth. The bamboo shoots are placed at different heights representing ‘Heaven’, ‘Humanity’ and ‘Earth’ respectively from the highest to the lowest.
Each region uses its own unique design to represent what’s important to them. According to the Kadomatsu specialists, pines are positioned lower than the bamboos in Kanto region while pines are positioned higher than the bamboos and shaped like a fan behind the bamboos in Kansai region. The designs of Kadomatsu are always evolving from traditional styles to modern and innovative styles but they will always consist of the most significant materials in the makings – pines and bamboos.