Spirit and Symbol: The Japanese New Year  by Reiko Mochinaga Brandon and Barbara B. Stephan Spirit and Symbol: The Japanese New Year  by Reiko Mochinaga Brandon and Barbara B. Stephan


Spirit and Symbol: The Japanese New Year by Reiko Mochinaga Brandon and Barbara B. Stephan

$67.25 Regular price $134.50

Age:1994 (Publication Date)

New Year or Oshogatsu is the most important holiday period in Japan for families and it is rich in tradition.  Here are some of the focused articles in this 144-page, a Softcover book filled with illustrations and colored images and published by the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

I Spirit and Symbol - The Japanese New Year

II Sacred Symbols - Decorations of the New Year

III Koshogatsu - The Farmer’s little New Year

IV Transitions, Festivities, and Religion

New Year’s Eve - Omisoka 

Omisoka is the Japanese expression for New Year’s Eve. In order to start off the new year with a fresh mind, families, and kids come together to clean up the entire house (called osoji - big cleaning) and use the last few days of the old year to make preparations for osechi ryori, special decorations, and rituals for New Year’s Day. As many people go back to their hometowns during this time, it might be interesting for you to see usually busy and hectic Tokyo suddenly becomes so quiet and empty.

Joya no Kane 

Around midnight on New Year’s Eve, you may hear bells peal in the tranquil sky monotonously for about 1-2 hours. This Buddhist tradition is called Joya no Kane, and it is one of the most important rituals of the year for Buddhist temples all over Japan. No matter where you live, you can probably hear the sound of the bells as temples are in many neighborhoods. But do you know why they strike the bell exactly 108 times? In Buddhism, it is believed that human beings are plagued by 108 types of earthly desires and feelings called Bonnou, exemplified by anger, adherence, and jealousy. Each strike of the bell will remove one troubling Bonnou from you. So, it is the perfect night to leave your old self behind and commence the new year with new resolutions and a clear head. By the time you count the 108th peal, you are ready to start the new year refreshed without anything troubling your mind -- in theory.


The tradition of eating soba (Japanese noodles) on New Year’s Eve is said to have become common during the Edo era (1603-1868). When soba is made, the dough is stretched and cut in a long and thin form, which is said to represent a long and healthy life. Interestingly, as soba is cut easily compared to other types of noodles, it also symbolizes a wish to cut away all the misfortunes of the old year in order to commence the new year refreshed.


You might have seen a green decoration made of pine, bamboo, and plum, (ume) trees in front of Japanese people’s houses and offices during the last few days of the old year and the first few days of the new year. It is called kadomatsu, and during the period from right after Christmas until January 7, it is believed to provide temporary housing for the toshigami sama, (deity) in order to ensure a great harvest and blessings from the family's ancestors on everyone in the home. Pine, bamboo, and plum trees each symbolize longevity, prosperity, and sturdiness.


Kagami-mochi, often translated as a mirror rice cake, is a rice cake used as a decoration. But you may wonder why it is called a mirror as it doesn’t look like a mirror at all.

However, mirrors in Japan a long time ago had a round shape and were often used for important Shinto rituals. As mirrors are believed to be a place where gods reside, these mochi, (rice cakes) are shaped like an ancient round mirror to celebrate the new year together with the gods.

On top of the rice cakes is a type of orange called daidai (now replaced with mikan most of the time). When written with different kanji it means “over generations,” representing a wish for the prosperity of descendants over generations. The shimekazari, or New Year wreath, made of twine, twigs, paper strips, and a mikan, is also a common sight at entrances to homes and offices.

New Year’s Day - Ganjitsu 

You might be confused by two different yet similar words, ganjitsu “I’ve never thought about that...don’t they mean the same thing?” While ganjitsu refers to the whole 24 hours of New Year’s Day, gantan only refers to the morning of New Year’s Day. Ganjitsu is a pretty busy day for Japanese families. After breakfast, (osechi ryori) with all the relatives, they visit shrines and temples and shop for New Year’s special sales ... but each of these traditions has a hidden meaning, purpose and sometimes the complex way to conduct it.

Osechi Ryori 

Osechi ryori consists of traditional Japanese foods eaten at the very outset of the new year. They are served in a beautiful 3 or 4-layer bento box called jubako placed in the middle of the table and are shared by families or friends surrounding it. The osechi tradition is said to have started in the Heian Era (794-1185), and since then, each food item in osechi has represented a particular wish for the new year. For example, renkon, (lotus root) represents hope for a good and happy future without obstacles ahead, because you can see the other side (the future) through the holes without obstacles. 


When you eat osechi ryori, you will use a special type of chopsticks called iwai-bashi. Usually, chopsticks get thinner toward one of the ends that you use to pick up food, while with iwai-bashi, both ends are sharp. This is because one side will be used by yourself, and the other side is believed to be used by a deity. Osechi ryori is something that is offered to the deity first, who then allows you to share it so you’ll be blessed with a fruitful year ahead. So, even if you think it is efficient to use both sides of the chopsticks to get some food from the shared plate, it will be considered disrespectful toward the deity.


Otoshidama refers to a Japanese tradition that all children look forward to every year. Kids receive small envelopes with some cash from their parents, grandparents, and close relatives, generally from 5-to 6 people. The average amount of money per envelope is 5,000 yen, but it generally increases as the kids grow up. The tradition originated as an offering of rice cakes called kagami mochi to toshigami-sama, a New Year deity. Those rice cakes, given from parents to children, were called toshidama in the past, and they came to be replaced with small toys, and then with money today.


Hatsumode is the first visit to a shrine or temple during the first few days of January, where family and relatives pray together for a fortunate year ahead. Some of the most popular shrines and temples organize festivities with stalls that sell food, omikuji, (fortune-telling strips of paper for drawing), and lucky charms to wish for safety, the prosperity of descendants, good exam results, love, and wealth. When you make a prayer at the altar, you might be confused about how the prayer is specifically conducted by Japanese people. Here’s what to do: First, throw some coins into a box in front of the altar, ring the bell using the rope hanging down from it, bow twice, clap your hands twice in front of your chest, and lastly bow one more time.


Nengajo refers to a special type of postcard Japanese people send to their friends and acquaintances as a form of greeting at the end of the year. This custom is quite similar to the tradition in Western countries of sending Christmas cards. They are generally delivered on Jan 1 when posted by a certain date in December thanks to a generous service operated by the post office. Nengajo generally starts with a standard sentence Akemashite Omedeto Gozaimasu (Happy New Year) and Kotoshi mo Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu (Thank you for all your support for this year in advance.) Additionally, people tend to write how they have been doing recently or their new year resolutions along with their family photo or an illustration of the coming year’s sign from the Chinese zodiac. 


Directly translated, fukubukuro means a lucky bag, which is a Japanese tradition where department stores and shops fill bags with random leftover goods from the past year and sell them at a sizeable discount. The tradition is said to come from a Japanese proverb that says “There is a fortune in leftovers, (Nokorimono ni wa fuku ga aru).”

Condition: New, unused Softbound without a broken spine.

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Customer Reviews

One of the most beautiful pieces I have purchased in over 10 years

I recently purchased one of the most beautiful pieces I have purchased in over 10 years. The information you provided was excellent, the piece is in mint condition as advertised, with a subject matter I did not have in my collection.

— dbl

Delightful and well written book

Just downloaded my ebook on Sosaku Kokeshi. Excellent and so excited to see that you transposed the hardbound version. Exceptional large color images with great descriptions and details. It is so nice to have a copy I can carry when touring and when I am on-line shopping for Kokeshi. Also nice not to have to pay for international shipping.

— Author's name

A great doll

As always, a carefully packed order arrived this morning. This Sosaku Kokeshi – Takeda, Nori Aki Kaze is a great doll. Her large attractive head and maple leaf pattern, along with the vibrant colour make this doll very intriguing. Another copy of your new book that I have ordered for my friend will be a great Christmas Present for him. Much appreciated. I have also enjoyed furthering my knowledge of Japanese Antiques and Collectibles through your website.

— Kathy

You did the subject justice

Vintage Kokeshi and its history is absolutely a topic thats close to my heart, so Im pleased that you wrote about it. Im also happy that you did the subject justice bringing the history of these creative artifacts to light. Not only do you know a great deal about it, you know the way to present the subject in a way that individuals will wish to read far more. Im so happy to know a person/site like you exists on the internet. I understand you are writing a book on Sosaku Kokeshi artists. That will be high on my list for there is nothing in English on the subject, and I am worried that the craftsmen and their creations will be lost as Japan becomes more western in attitude. Doomo arigato gozaimasu from Japan.

— Misugi

Truly opened my eyes

I recently purchased your book on Kokeshi and what a find after collecting for over 10 years with no information to base my purchases on. Now I have YOUR ILLUSTRATIVE BOOK and it has truly opened my eyes. All the associated stories and folk tales give such light to my collection. A curator at the Japanese American National Museum in LA told me about this great resource. Your book happens to be astonishingly precise although I can understand why someone else has not written a book on the subject, because all the artists producing Kokeshi remain obscure and little information available has not been translated. Your book truly did switch the light on for me personally as related to Japanese folk art.

— John G

Detailed textual information & beautiful photographs

We just received your new book, Sosaku Kokeshi: A New Look at an Old Tradition. Let us be the first to congratulate you on this superb follow-up to Kokeshi: Wooden Treasures of Japan. Your comprehensive text with its notes on the artists and the beautiful photography create a work that any collector of Kokeshi should have if they wish to develop an understanding of and knowledge about this Japanese folk art. We don’t know which is better (Does either have to be better?), the detailed textual information or the beautiful photographs. Both insist upon and rightfully demand spending time to enjoy and appreciate them. Thank you so much for adding to our appreciation of Kokeshi.

— Masakazu & Keiko Ota

Another great Kokeshi book edition

Another great Kokeshi book edition. I was thrilled to see many of the Kokeshi in my collection in your book. I even found a few that I still had not been able to identify, it was nice to finally know the artisans behind my wonderful collection.

— M. Molina

My kokeshi collection has become more focused and personal now that I am able to recognize which dolls I am truly drawn to

Whether you are a kokeshi doll collector like I am, or exploring Japanese folk art for the first time, Sosaku Kokeshi – A New Look at an Old Tradition is a wonderful, informative resource for collectors and a lovely visual introduction to Sosaku dolls. I just purchased a copy of the book, and I could not be more pleased! With its beautiful colour photographs, signatures and profiles of the artists along with titles of the dolls, it is a well-researched, comprehensive resource. While some dolls featured in the book were familiar to me, I was also introduced to artists and dolls that I have never seen or heard of before.

These two books have helped me to learn so much more about kokeshi dolls, and influence my thoughts on the process of doll selection. My kokeshi collection has become more focused and personal now that I am able to recognize which dolls I am truly drawn to. These two books have become an extension of and just as much a part of my collection as the dolls that sit on my shelves.

— Karen W.

WONDERFUL exposition.

The artwork on each doll is literally like a unique painting historically recording the Japanese culture. Thank you for your fine work and this educational experience.

— TM

After we purchased the first one, we fell irresistibly in love

We started collecting Kokeshi only a short time ago with the expert guidance of Michael and Robert. Beginning with a goal of three or four dolls for each of our granddaughters, we almost immediately changed our goal after we purchased the first one and fell irresistibly in love with this Japanese folk art.

We have amassed a small collection that we display proudly.

In spite of our limited background and only a little research to support our evaluation, Sosaku Kokeshi: A New Look at an Old Tradition is a magnificent work on the subject of these wooden dolls which make up a segment of the folk arts of Japan. The detailed background materials on the artists and the notes on the dolls can be an invaluable part of one’s collection. The marvelous photography is an excellent complement to the text, as we re-viewed the images many times, envying the owner of each doll.

— Koigirl

I love my new jewelry box!!

Just want to say MAHALO — love my new jewelry box!! I wanted this tobacco box to hold my modest collection of jewelry. I tend to march to the beat of a different drummer most of the time, and I often repurpose items. When I saw this lovely Japanese box you were selling, I thought “bingo!” — perfect!! So, many thanks… and I hope to occasionally purchase an item now and then now that I know about you!

— Kristi

Delightful Kokeshi book

I received your delightful Kokeshi book, and I am very grateful to have discovered this beautiful publication. The photographs are singular elegant portraits. It is wonderful you have included the calligraphy kanji signature of the craftsman, as important as the beautiful painted dolls. Your book gives provenance to my small treasured collection and a guide in my search for more. Exciting to also discover a few of mine already in your book. Many thanks again for gifting this special kokeshi edition and I hope to continue to share the joy.

— Tania

Oh my goodness! She has arrived and she is divine!

She was beautifully packed and arrived safe and sound. She is so gorgeous and I thank you so much for all that you have done along the way. You provide such a professional yet also personable business and it was a delight dealing with you.
Thank you for bringing such gorgeous items to our attention – these Kokeshis are ‘works of art’ and we are lucky to be able to purchase them and bring them into our lives and homes.
I had to send you a photo of her with her new family and I have to say, as you predicted, she fits in beautifully.
I shall keep an eye on your website for further ‘treasures’.

— Karen, the lucky owner of ‘Pigtails’ by Ishihara, Hideo

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Thank you for your attention and guidance to a new mingei collector. Both your publication and mingei are outstanding, your packing is perfect and shipping prompt.

— Brenda

Really beautiful.

Got the vase over the weekend. Somehow this medium really speaks to me, at least the objects where most everything is in different shades of brown. Very appealing. Yes, too bad I missed out on the ginger jars you had for sale. Ah well, it’s all OK in the universe. And what clever use of materials for safe packing!

— Da-Shih

Shopping through the items in this store is like treasure hunting, without the hunting.

I have several items from Robert & Michael’s collection now and they all hold a special place in my home and warm my heart when I see them. Something about the art from Japan just makes me feel at peace and also comforted.

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I could not be happier with my three new Kokeshi

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— Barb

Opened my eyes to the diversity and beauty of an amazing art form

It wasn’t until I got your book that I realized what I had been missing these past years! Now I am totally addicted.

— B

Great spinning top

I purchased a vintage spinning top for a gift, and I absolutely love it! The ordering process was fast and easy, and the item was in the condition described on the website.

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Thank you for sending this book to me

It is beautiful, so informative and stunning pictures. Well done to you both for producing this. Any wonder so many people around the world love it. I  will love using it as my reference book. You have both been so lovely to deal with……I look to you both as experts in all things Kokeshi and Japanese art, and look forward to our continued friendship across the world.
🙏🏻🐨💐🥂👘🌎🌏🍱 🥰

— Karen