January 16, 2020

Dondo Yaki: the celebration of a new beginning

Dondo Yaki, the day when we break the roots of the past and we start to focus on the present and the future to come.

Yesterday, while I was running along my usual route, I saw a group of people in the rice fields, gathered around a large bonfire along the river. Not paying too much attention about it, I continued on my way until the same scene appeared to me over and over again.


When I get home, I did some research and apparently, what I watched was the celebration of the “Dondo Yaki”.

Towards the end of the festivities, until the middle of January, it is custom to create large bonfires, in which are thrown the lucky charms bought the previous year, or the one that for a long time were stored and forgotten in some drawer in our house.

Another last moment of celebration where people say goodbye to the year just ended.

Why burn them in a bonfire?

Throwing these gifts in the garbage is considered a sign of bad luck. A disrespect towards the “amulets” that have accompanied and protected us for part of our lives.

Like Yo explain to me, is like throw in the garbage a precious present some one gave you, without taking care of him anymore. Definitely not a nice thing to do.

For this reason Dondo Yaki was born as a helpful moment when Japanese could them away, but not only.

There is a much deeper meaning:

“Through Dondo Yaki we break ties with the past and focus on the present and the future that awaits us”.


By throwing them away we become aware of what our past has been, and from now on we focus on what we can do in the coming years!

What’s being burned?

New Year‘s decorations are the main items that are burned.
I’m referring to:

Kadomatsu: composed of 3 pieces of bamboo carved, is generally placed outside the entrance of the houses. It welcomes the spirits of the harvest.

Shimezakari: small rope made from rice straw decorated with a paper called Shade. It’s the same one that’s outside Shinto temples and keeps bad spirits away from home.

Kagami Mochi (literally, “Mirror Mochi”). It is made up of two ways placed one on top of the other with a “Daidai” (bitter orange) on top. Is related to the desire of repeating a peaceful year.


But that’s not all!
Being a time when families meet again for a moment of celebration, together with these decorations you can (of course) find something good to snack with family and friends.

Traditionally, Mikan (mandarin), Mochi and Japanese Dango are skewered to branches and roasted on the fire.

It is said that by eating them at the Dondo Yaki, they can bring good luck and health for the New Year!

Where and when?

Traditionally the Dondo Yaki should be celebrated during the first full moon of the year, but because of work and school schedule the day early change.

For this reason the festival is generally held during the weekend before the second Monday of the month.

In the Japanese countryside you will find small fireplaces set up in many rice field managed by farmers with the help of city hall,

Instead, if you live in the city, you can take part to this celebration in the are outside of the center.

For example close to the Hashimoto Tama River and Miyanoshita Sport Park, where very big and suggestive bonfires are set up for the occasion.

If you have old New Year’s decorations or amulets in the house that have already done their duty, it is definitely a place to go in order to celebrate one last time the past year and focus on our coming future.