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Kagami Biraki 鏡開き

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    Kagami Biraki is a traditional Japanese ceremony to break the ornamental mochi and eat it for good health and fortune for the New Year.

    Kagami Mochi & Kagami Biraki | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.com

    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 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 Mochi & Kagami Biraki | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.com

    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 the surrounding area, it’s celebrated on the 4th.

    Ancient people believed the food once being offered to God would have special powers, and they wished for health by eating it with the appreciation to God.

    Kagami Mochi & Kagami Biraki | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.com

    One thing you have to remember when you break mochi into pieces is never cut it. The action reminds the Japanese people of Seppuku (切腹), ritual disembowelment during 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.

    Kagami Biraki | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.com

    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

    The broken small pieces of mochi do not look appealing, so they are usually enjoyed as a dessert in Zenzai (Red Bean Soup), or as a part of the meal in Ozoni (New Year Soup).

    Japanese lacquer bowls containing red bean soup with mochi.

    Red Bean Soup with Mochi (Zenzai / Oshiruko)

    A black and gold lacquered bowl containing Japanese New Year Soup Ozoni.

    Kansai-style Ozoni (New Year Mochi Soup)

    A black and gold lacquered bowl containing Japanese New Year Soup Ozoni.

    Kanto-style Ozoni (New Year Mochi Soup)

    If you are tired of eating soups, try making rice cracker snacks!

    Homemade Rice Crackers (Kakimochi かき餅) | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.com

    Rice Crackers (Kakimochi)

    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 celebrations.

    Kagami Biraki | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.com
    By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Justin Smelley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
    Sake Masu | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.comIn 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 the 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.

    Kagami Biraki | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.com
    Kagami Biraki Ceremony at Nippon Budokan

    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!

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