In Japan, the New Year period is considered the most important time of the year, and Kagami Biraki coincides with its celebration.
It is ritually held on the second Sunday of January and celebrated by offering mochi (or rice cakes). The New Year is also a time for people, members of a clan, family, dojo, work or other group to assemble together. Mochi, or rice cakes, are offered as a symbol of personal reflection.
Japanese legend tells a story of a deity who fell out of favour with the other gods because of his unusually cruel nature. This deity was banished and eventually found his way to a secluded cave where he came upon a mirror-like object. This mirror-like object forced him to look at himself, reflect upon his actions by looking deeper inside and try to figure out why he was such a cruel person. After a great many years of personal reflection, the deity returned to the other gods who immediately noticed a great change in his mannerisms and character.
To members of Japanese feudal society, mirrors represented the soul or conscience. Therefore it was considered important to keep mirrors clean since it was thought that mirrors reflected back on the viewer his or her own thoughts. Eventually the mirror image was used to illustrate to the common people that they should try to look at themselves as if they were looking in a mirror and thereby, judge themselves for what they truly are.
Rice cakes, or Kagami Mochi, are rounded in the shape of old-fashioned metal mirrors. They symbolize full and abundant good fortune. Their breaking apart (or opening up) is the “Mirror Opening.”
Kagami Biraki is also known to some as “Armour Day,” as the polishing of weapons and armour was symbolically seen as a method to clarify thought and strengthen dedication to samurai’s obligations and duty in the coming year.
In traditional martial arts dojos, Kagami Biraki represents a renewing of the Spirit and Rededication to training. The ancient concept of mirror polishing symbolizes self-polishing, working on and perfecting the self, and reducing ego. It represents practice to keep the mind and resolve clear.
Aikido of the San Juans also celebrates Hans Goto Sensei, who just received the very high honour of 7th dan (7th degree black belt). Goto Sensei started training in aikido in 1969 in California, and went to Iwama Dojo in Japan in 1973 to train with Morihiro Saito Sensei, becoming the first American live-in student. He wound up staying at Iwama for a year, and has dedicated his life to aikido. 7th dan is a very rare honour, held by only about 20 people in the United States.
In 2005, Goto took his mission to promote peace and conflict resolution to Nicosia, Cyprus, where he taught at the Training Across Borders seminar sponsored by Aiki Extensions. This seminar brought together people who had considered each other life-long enemies, including Israelis and Palestinians, and aikido students from Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Egypt and other countries in the region.
“It was an amazing experience to see tensions melt and friendships begin just by training and relating to each other in close quarters,” Goto said.
Goto Sensei is part of the direct lineage from aikido’s founder, Morihei Ueshiba, through Morihiro Saito Sensei, to local Aikido of the San Juans instructors Lisa Jensen and Bill Trimarco. Aikido of the San Juans celebrated Kagami Biraki with dojo members, families and friends on Saturday, Jan. 9.