It is already November and you will see Christmas lights at many places in Tokyo and it is also fun to visit those places with your loved ones and family.
You will also find unusual looking straw rope made ornaments at various shops and toward the end of year, the special shops only dedicated to these ornaments appear on many streets.
The straw made ornaments are called Shimenawa (しめ縄) and it is also called Shimekazari （しめ飾り）. There are many different types and sizes of these ornaments and the designs can vary depending on where they are made.
Shimenawa can be found in Shinto shrine all year around, but we normally decorate our home with the ornament only during new year seasons. It is usually hanged on outside of an entrance door and the period of hanging the ornament vary depending on which area you live in Japan, but typically it is from 26th of December until 7th of January. Traditionally we started preparing for new year from 13th of December, that is called Kotohajime, so anytime after 13th of December, it can be hanged at the entrance.
The used Shimenawa is generally brought to a local shrine for the purification (recently some shrines do not accept the used shimenawa for the purification, so you have to ask the shrine if they take your shimenawa for you. If they do, you can leave it with them and throw a small cash to their offertory box (generally coins). The shrine generally burns the shimenawa on 15th of January.
Anyway, you must be wondering what the shimenawa is for? When you search on the internet the word “ Shimenawa”, you will find many literatures on this subject, so I will not explain in details here, but for example Wikipedia explains that “A space bound by shimenawa often indicates a sacred or pure space, such as that of a Shinto shrine. Shimenawa are believed to act as a ward against evil spirits”.
Some people use the same shimenawa every year, but because of the reason above, it has been believed that the shimenawa should be purchased or made every year so that the sacred place, which is your home, can be protected every year.
Although you can find the shimenawa at many places in Tokyo even at super markets, sadly many of them are made in other countries like China and it is often hard to find made in Japan Shimenawa. The shimenawa I provide at my shop is all made in Japan shimenawa and the straw used for it is of the newly cropped, so you can still smell nice scent of straw and the color is still greenish brown rather than those of light brown sold at super markets.
Our shimenawa comes from Saga prefecture, which is in Kyushu area and they make those shimenawas which are unfamiliar to people in Tokyo, so every year our regulars come to my shop to purchase them.
This type of Shimenawa is relatively usual type.
This is a Japanese lobster design, called Ise-ebi.
Ise-ebi is often associated with celebration (because it jumps vigorously, so we believe that your performance for work etc improves), so this motif is used for various occasions in Japan. This ise-ebi design shimenawa is, however, unusual in Tokyo.
This is a turtle design. It has been believed that turtle lives for 10,000 years, so it represents longevity. The rice crop on the turtle shell expresses that the turtle has lived so long that seaweeds grew on the shell.
This type of shimenawa ornament is unusual in Tokyo area, so you do not find that at many places. The turtle can be kept at home after the new year and some people leave it somewhere in their living room as a part of an interior decoration.
This is a crane design and is also unusual in Tokyo. A crane is also associated with longevity like turtle, because it has been believed that it lives for 1,000 years. The shape of wing has also good meaning. That is because the bottom of the wing is wider than that of top and that is called 末広がり (suehirogari), meaning the bottom is wider. We believe that suehirogari indicates better future and wider perspective.
Here is an orthodox shimenawa design, but still a bit unusual in a way that it has a little circle like P shape on the right.
Anyway there are many different designs of shimenawa in Japan and it is also fun to look at what kind of shimenawa each house hangs on their entrance and if you are interested, you can also try at your home during the new year season.
These handcrafted shimenawas are available at my store from mid November to the end of December every year. If you are interested in purchasing any of them please visit our shop in Tokyo.
MA by So Shi Te
2-22-15 MinamiAoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-3401-0922 or +81-3-3401-0922