New Year in Japan where I live, is celebrated as in the west, on 1st January, with holidays often extended until the 3rd or 4th. Instead of consuming large amounts of alcohol and partying with friends, many Japanese families will visit a temple or shrine to pray for a good new year. They will clean their houses, as the belief is that this is a time to purify things. Finally they will decorate their houses with kadomatsu, decorations made from pine branches which are hung on the gates, shimekazari, a straw decoration that is hung over the front door or above the stove to block the entrance of bad luck and evil spirits, and kagamimochi, a tiered rice cake that is put on the household alter or on a shelf in the main room.
Kadomatsu are not only decorative but are symbolic too, since the chunks of bamboo are cut to show their joints or setsu. Another meaning of setsu in Japanese is ‘fidelity’ or ‘consistency’. The pine meanwhile signifies strength and tenacity, as it keeps its leaves throughout the winter
Many of the shimekazari decorations have a special significance. If a small bitter orange is included it is because the word orange sounds like ‘many generations’. The word kelp sounds similar to the word for ‘happy’, while a lobster or a fan, or ferns encourage other good luck meanings. The little cat that waves with a gold coin in one paw is beckoning for more coins, in other words is hoping for prosperity.
Why have I included the above in this week’s blog? Well partly because it is New Year and Writer’s Abroad would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year but secondly, using word play like this in your work can be and effective or amusing way of getting a message across.
The words you use send a message to the reader such as in phonetic mix-ups like spoonerisms, obscure words, significant character names or oddly constructed sentences. I have just entered a short story competition with two characters called Damian Hedges who writes horrific fantasies and Romeo Sutcliffe who warbles romantically. A little play with words can bring some humour to your writing. This can also be used to good effect in the title, as newspapers are keen to do.
Happy New Year Everyone and here’s to a successful writing year ahead.