Traditional Japanese New Year Decoration, Kagami mochi

January 4th, 2013By Category: Arts & Entertainment, Culture, Food & Dining

Kagami mochi 「鏡餅」 is a special traditional Japanese decoration for the New Year, usually displayed inside the house in the kamidana, for Toshigami, the god of the new year, to bring good luck and prosperity in the new year.
Kagami mochi is made from two rice cakes (mochi) of different sizes, the smaller placed over the larger one, and a daidai, a Japanese type of bitter orange placed on top. In some versions, the mochi are placed on a konbu sheet, a symbol of pleasure and joy.

As I wrote when I described the shimekazari New Year decoration, a kanji writing for daidai 「代々」 can mean “generation to generation”, so the small orange symbolizes the continuity of the generations and long life, while the mochi symbolizes the past year and the year to come. So, kagami mochi symbolizes the continuity of the family over the years.

Japanese new year decoration kagami mochi

The name has also an interesting explanation: the shape of the two mochi is similar to the shape of the copper round mirrors (kagami in Japanese) used during the Muromachi period – you can see several photos at the Kyoto National Museum.

The kagami mochi is kept until the beginning of January when, on 11th, (or on the second Saturday or Sunday from January) a Shinto ritual named Kagami Biraki (the opening of the mirror) takes place, the first important ritual after the New Year. Then, the kagami mochi is broken, with the hand or with a hammer, into edible-size pieces and it is cooked (e.g. shiruko). A knife is never used, because that would mean cutting the family ties.

Author of this article


Muza-chan (real name Lili), is a Romanian travel writer and photographer, living in Bucharest and frequently visiting Japan. She publishes daily photos from Japan, with insights and comments about the areas she visited. She also writes about Japan travel, culture and traditions and her hobbies include pop-culture, music and cuisine. 

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  • leslie nguyen says:

    Interesting article. I heard some people choked on mochi this year. Have to be cautious.


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