Kagami Biraki is a traditional Japanese ceremony to break the ornamental mochi and eat it for good health and fortune for the New Year.
Have you heard of the traditional Japanese ceremony called “Kagami Biraki” (鏡開き)? To finish off the Japanese New Year celebrations, Kagami Biraki is usually held on January 11.
What is Kagami Biraki?
Kagami Biraki refers to the tradition which Kagami Mochi (鏡餅), a pair of decorated rice cakes for the God, is removed from the family altar and broken into smaller pieces before being eaten. Eating the mochi signifies a prayer for health and good fortune for the New Year.
The literal translation for Kagami is “mirror”, and Biraki means “opening” or “to break”. Why mirror? The name “Kagami” is originated from its resemblance to an old-fashioned round copper mirror, which also had a religious significance, according to Japanese mythology.
Kagami Biraki Ceremony
Originally, Kagami Biraki was celebrated on January 20th, but with the death of the third Shogun, Iemitsu in the Tokugawa shogunate, on January 20, 1651, it was changed to the 11th as odd numbers are considered auspicious in Japan.
There are slight differences with the date based on the region. In the western part of Japan, it’s celebrated on January 15th. In Kyoto and surrounding area, it’s celebrated on the 4th.
Ancient people believed the food once being offered to the God would have special powers, and they wished for health by eating it with the appreciation to the God.
One thing you have to remember when you break mochi into pieces is never cut it. The action reminds Japanese people of Seppuku (切腹), ritual disembowelment during the the old times, and they believed it as a sign of bad luck. Therefore, the common way is to break it with a wooden hammer or do it with your hands.
The words “kiru” (to cut) and “waru” (to break) have connotations of bad fortune and mishap; therefore, “hiraku“(open) – the original form of “Biraki” – is used in the sense of the opening of new opportunities.
These days not many families decorate the real mochi. Instead, Kagami Mochi-shaped plastic packs can be purchased at grocery stores. Inside the mold, there are individually packaged small mochi pieces for convenience and for better preservation.
Recipes To Use Kagami Mochi
If you are tired of eating soups, try making rice cracker snacks!
Bonus: The Other Kagami Biraki
The term Kagami Biraki has different meanings. It also refers to the opening the lid of sake barrel at celebratory events, such as weddings, opening ceremonies of companies, sports events, and new year celebration.
In the picture above, the lid of the sake is opened using a wooden mallet called kizuchi (木槌) and a wooden ladle hishaku (柄杓) is used to fill the square masu (升) cups with sake from the barrel.
At sake brewers, the lid of sake barrel is called “Kagami”. This custom of opening the barrel is also called Kagami Wari (鏡割り) “Mirror Breaking” or Kagami Nuki (鏡抜き) “Mirror Pulling”, but Kagami Biraki is commonly used for happy occasions.
Also, Kagami Biraki is celebrated in many dojos (traditional martial art schools such as judo, karate, jujutsu, kendo, aikido etc) to kick off the dojo’s new year.
I hope you enjoy learning about Kagami Biraki!