Lecture Note: Kadomatsu – New Year’s Decoration by Youkou Kitajima

Nibei Japan Study Club Kadomatsu Youkou Kitajima

Ikebana instructor Youkou Kitajima explains how to make "Kadomatsu." (Cultural News Photo)

The Nibei Foundation – Japan Study Club

11570 West Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064

February 15, 2011

Youkou Kitajima is a First Degree Instructor on the Board of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana (flower arranging) in Japan.  He is known for his most dynamic and beautiful arrangements based on the Japanese traditional style with a most contemporary twist.  He also graduated from the Meisei University of Engineering in Japan.

He started his studies of flower arranging at the Sogetsu Ikebana style under Seiyo Sato in Tokyo at the age of eighteen and received his first teaching diploma from the school at the age of 22.  He then worked for the Musashino Landscape Company where he mastered his art and later received a degree for landscaping design from the Japanese government.

In 2005, he received the Japan Agriculture Society Agriculture Achievement Award and in 2007 the Sogetsu Ikebana Overseas Award.

Mr. Kitajima is presently the proprietor of the NK Nursery in the City of Industry.  His nursery specializes in the materials need for Japanese-style gardens.  His nursery is particularly known for his beautiful Japanese pine.

Mr. Kitajima gave a short history and lecture of the kadomatsu before honoring the audience with a demonstration of a large kadomatsu display.

Kadomatsu literally means “gate pine” and is a decoration of the Japanese New Year’s celebration which is placed in pairs in front of some homes and work establishments.

Kadomatsu are set up from around December 28th and taken down on January 15th.  As a large home is needed for the traditional kadomatsu, one may display a more “miniature” version of the kadomatsu.  Designs for the kadomatsu may vary depending on the region, but they typically are made from pine, bamboo, and sometimes plum tree sprigs.

The pine represents longevity; the bamboo, strength and growth; and the plum blossoms strength through adversity and eventual prosperity.

“Toshigami” gods and spirits bring prosperity to the homes and businesses displaying such arrangements.  Kadomatsu allow temporary housing for the ancestors’ spirits.

From the Edo Period, such displays were thought to bring bountiful harvest and earlier in the Heian Period, pine was placed at the entry of an establishment; one on each side.

Ties for the “hana-musubi” are done up in a way that represents a flower.  Chrysanthemum flowers and azaleas are also very popular.

Mr. Kitajima had also had his modern version of the kadomatsu displayed at the National Museum in Washington, D.C.  These arrangements may include many more colorful flowers such as orchids.  Popular colors to include in the kadomatsu are red, white and gold.  Gold and silver “mizuhiki” ties are also often incorporated into the arrangements.

He showed us his “bag” of tools.  This included cutting tools, two types of scissors, a pair of small strong and sharp scissors and a larger one for heavier work; and jikatabi which are special socks that are good for climbing trees for pruning.

He added that trees should be trimmed meticulously to keep them green and healthy and to produce good fruit.  One must even give “orei” or “thanks” to the fruit and the fertilizer for producing such wonderful plants.

Mr. Kitajima honored the audience with a demonstration of the creation of a kadomatsu.  He started by cutting two bamboos with a saw and then forming a tie with gold and silver twine tied together; musubu means to “tie” and represents hopes and wishes.

He used a traditional “otoko musubi” tie.  He also incorporated a large bamboo screen and further decorated it with gold and silver bamboo spray streamers.

The material he used was 1.) Japanese black pine; 2.) Nanten or heavenly bamboo. Nanten has red berries and are said to “turn bad to good.” 3.) white and yellow chrysanthemums;  4.) a base covered with polished black rocks.

Lastly, the audience was delighted to be treated with the opportunity to make their own “miniature” kadomatsu.

It was a most interesting and “fun” evening.