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A Quick Guide to Kagami Mochi, the Traditional Japanese New Year Decorative Cake

During the end of the year and New Year’s holidays in Japan, you can see two donut-shaped objects with a mandarin on top of it. What is this snowman-like object?

The Kagami Mochi and Its Meaning

Kagami mochi is used as a traditional Japanese New Year decoration. It is usually made up of two layers of round mochi (rice cake) topped with a mandarin.

Kagami” means “mirror” in Japanese, and it is often said that its shape resembles a bronze mirror, which was considered a treasure by the ancient Japanese. It is believed that by double decking such noble items, your fortune will also double. The mandarin on top is called dai-dai and it is supposed to give hope and prosperity to the following descendants. All this makes kagami mochi a very lucky item.

Kagami mochi is usually decorated with Japanese decorative paper, ferns, and dried kelp. However, decorations vary from region to region and family to family.

Where to Place the Decoration?

According to Japan’s Kagami Mochi Association, placing kagami mochi in many areas of your house is recommended. Each location such as the kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom has a corresponding deity who will be pleased if you display the auspicious item.

You can find different sizes of kagami mochi everywhere in Japan, ranging from small to extra large. Supermarkets sell kagami mochi decoration sets during December.

A Japanese woman is dressed in a New Year kimono. A kagami mochi is displayed on a shelf behind her.
It is recommended to place kagami mochi in many locations of your house to increase luck.

How Do the Japanese Eat Kagami Mochi?

It is also believed that the kami’s power resides in kagami mochi. To obtain the power of these deities during the New Year, people usually cook it in a soup called o-zoni. Another dish in which to cook kagami mochi is a dessert called o-shiruko, a kind of soup made from sweet red beans.

A bowl of soup with two balls of grilled mochi inside
O-zoni is a soup traditionally eaten during New Year celebrations.

When preparing the kagami mochi for the soup, Japanese people do not use knives to cut the rice cakes but break them with wooden hammers. This procedure is called kagami biraki (“opening the mirror”)

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Amélie Geeraert

Born in France, I've been living in Japan since 2011. I'm curious about everything, and living in Japan has allowed me to expand my vision of the world through a broad range of new activities, experiences, and encounters. As a writer, what I love most is listening to people's personal stories and share them with our readers.

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