Kagami Biraki

Kagami Mochi

On the second Sunday of each new year (traditionally on the eleventh day of January) the Kagami Biraki is celebrated in Japan. For many traditional Martial Arts this is a very ancient and respected celebration, even if not completely maintaining its religious profile.

Kagami Biraki literally means, “to open the mirror” or “to break the mirror”. The origin of this festivity is to be found before the Edo period (Tokugawa, approximately 1600-1867). Originally, in the families of the Samurai, the Kagami Mochi (a round cake made of rice) was offered to the Gods. The men offered mochi in front of their armour and to their own nihonto (Japanese sword), while the women offered symbols or relics, placing dresses and mirrors in front of the Shinto in order to allow purification.

In preparation for the festivity, the katana, the armour and the mirrors were cleaned in order to clear the mind and to reinforce the duty and the dedication of the Samurai for the new year. The festivity was also a moment of participation; eating mochi with the members of the clan or the family contributed to reinforce the alliances between the Samurai.

During the celebration of the Kagami Biraki the Kagami Mochi did not have to be cut with a blade (it was not a sign of making a wish), but were rather broken with the hands. Later, this tradition was also diffused to the other social classes offering the mochi to deities, thanking them for what people had had in the previous year and asking for the power to face the new year. Nowadays Kagami Biraki is synonymous with “breaking of the rice cake”. Traditionally, the head of the family (in the Martial Arts he is the Dojo Cho, or the Sensei) offers the Kagami Mochi to Toshigami (the God of the New Year).

Kagami Mochi is composed of two mochi, one large with a smaller one placed above it, and then a mandarin (mikan) is placed on top of the smaller mochi. The Kagami Mochi is then placed on a small table called sampo. Chestnuts, lobsters and other kinds of food that are said to bring luck are used as decoration. The Kagami Mochi is then eaten on the day of Kagami Biraki.

The purpose of the festivity is to begin the new year with new and good intentions, reflecting and meditating on the previous year, and “breaking the mirror” means “to break the image of ourselves in the old year”. In the dojo, in front of “men”, are placed mochi: armours or arms or their reproductions. In Japanese Un Wo Hiraku means “to open the destiny”, in the sense of opening just the destiny to tomorrow. The term Hiraki (Biraki) comes from Hiraku, and therefore the sense of Kagami Biraki is “to open the Kagami Mochi”.

Nowadays this custom is also practised in offices, schools and in communities as auspice for the activities of the new year. In Japan many dojo of Aikido, Judo and Karate maintain the tradition of the purification ceremony: the salt, traditionally the symbol of purity, is thrown in the dojo and swept with the pine. In many dojo, on the second Saturday or Sunday in January, a harder and stricter training is practised in Zazen (sitting cross-legged and concentrating on meditation) in order to conclude the old year and to begin the new year meditating.

By Andrea Fuser – Copyright © Takemusu Aikido Association Italy.

About Takemusu Aikido South Africa

The Takemusu Aikido Association South Africa (TAASA), formally Iwama Ryu™ South Africa, is a free group of black-belted practitioners of Aikido based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Our aim is to promote and spread the traditional teaching method of Morihiro Saito Sensei, direct student of the Founder of Aikido, to all communities in South Africa.