Shimekazari: Inviting the gods in for the new year

The New Year is undoubtedly the most anticipated and important holiday for the Japanese. It is a long celebration that runs December 31 to January 3. During this period, all sorts of ceremonies and customs are practiced.

Here’s a fascinating one: the hanging of Shimekazari on top of the house entrance to prevent bad spirits from entering and to invite the Toshigami (歳神), or Shinto deity, to descend and visit. This traditional New Year decoration is made of shimenawa, a sacred Shinto straw rope, and other materials such as bitter oranges, ferns, and white ritual paper strips called shide.

Shimekazari on entrance

Shimekazari on entrance.

Symbolism of Shimenawa

Shimenawa, the sacred braided straw rope used in a shimekazari decoration, holds deep meaning for the Japanese. When hung above the entryway of a site, it marks the border to pure space where the gods can  descend, such as the entrance to a shrine precinct or a ritual site. The term shimenawa is the combination of shime, or items used in ancient times to symbolize ownership, and nawa, or rope, which was the most common way to mark an object or space.


Dontoyaki, or Dondo Yaki (どんと焼き), is a traditional fire ceremony held around the 15th of January when people gather at the local shrine to burn their New Year decorations, including the shimekazari, to symbolize the send-off of the toshigami. 

Here’s a video upload by je1trv:

For more shimekazari designs, see here.