SHIMEKAZARI Japanese New Year Decorations made of Hemp

Japanese New Year Decorations made of Hemp


6 - 16 November 2020

11:00 - 18:00 closed on Tuesday

The use of hemp in Japan dates back to the Jōmon era, and predates the flourishing of rice cultivation in our country. Japanese-grown hemp has been treasured over the centuries for its striking white hue, which glistens like gold when its stalks have been fermented and twisted. Due to its association with purity, hemp is a traditional staple used for Shintō vestments, votive offerings, and purification tools.

Our shimekazari are fashioned from high-quality, domestic-grown hemp by the expert hands of Kyoto’s Yamakawa family, purveyor of hemp goods for shrines and temples all over Japan. Everything is done by hand at the Yamakawa house, in the same way it has been since they started their business in the late 19th century. Gazing at a twined rope, wrought from hemp fibers of varying thicknesses and lengths that have been woven together with the constant application of subtle hand force, I always feel a connection to some memory held deep within the body.

As signified by the expressions “ude ni yori o kakeru”   (“twist one’s arm” = strive to the utmost) and “yori o modosu” (“restore the twist” = revive a finished love relation), the act of twining—twisting together two or three strings and manipulating them into spiral shapes—has been a hand movement blended into our lives since ancient times. Just think of all the everyday tools across the globe that are made from entwined plant fibers: string, baskets, nets, matting, and so much more.

Different from most ordinary tools and ropes, for which the hemp yarn is twisted to the right, ropes used for Shintō rituals in Japan follow a tradition of twisting to the left. An entry in the Kojiki (“Records of Ancient Matters” = revered as the oldest record of origin myths, legends, and songs in Japan), might give us a clue as to why: it tells of the creator deities Izanagi and Izanami circling around the heavenly pillar—Izanagi from the left and Izanami from the right—and thereby first creating the islands. Using left-side twisted ropes for shimekazari shows that they have been special and precious offerings to the deities, imbued with many prayers.

Shimenawa (sacred twisted hemp ropes) are used at shrines to demarcate the dwelling places of deities and divinities. The most common and oldest examples are sacred trees and rocks encircled with simple hemp ropes. This rich history of shimenawa birthed a variety of regional shimekazari traditions, which adapted shimenawa at Shintō shrines for home use by the common people. Shimekazari have long been used in Japan as a means of ushering in the new year by welcoming the toshigami (god of the new year) and warding off evil spirits.

The shimekazari produced by Gallery Nichinichi embody these auspicious wishes in the most simple designs. Their beauty and impact derives entirely from the unique brilliance of hemp and its twisted forms, based on traditional shapes from all over the archipelago.

We will be offering seven types of shimekazari this year, ranging from small, palm-sized items shaped like doves and ladles, our best-selling favorites each year, to larger-sized items such as rain/thunderbolts and snake designs. Each shimekazari comes packaged in an individual white box, making it a perfect gift and New Year greeting.

May the god of the new year protect you and bring you a year filled with clarity and refreshment.

Book References: Mori Sumako, Shimekazari; Taima Hakubutsukan, Taima to iu nōsakubutsu; Nakatani Hisako, Aratae to nigitae; Takenaka Yoshiharu, Shiki no nenjū gyōji to narawashi; Nagaishi Kodainooka Museum, Migiyori hidariyori: Jōmon doki no mon’yō to himo no yori.