Kagami Biraki literally means, “to open the mirror” or “to break the mirror”. The origin of this is around the 15th century before the Edo period (Tokugawa, approximately 1600-1867). The Kagami Mochi (a round cake made of rice) was offered to the Gods. The men offered mochi in front of their armour and to their own nihonto (Japanese sword), while the women offered symbols or relics, placing dresses and mirrors in front of the Shinto in order to allow purification.
The purpose of the Kagami Biraki is to begin the new year with new and good intentions, reflecting and meditating on the previous year, and “breaking the mirror” means “to break the image of ourselves in the old year”. In the dojo, in front of “men”, are placed mochi: armours or arms or their reproductions. In Japanese Un Wo Hiraku means “to open the destiny”, in the sense of opening just the destiny to tomorrow. The term Hiraki (Biraki) comes from Hiraku, and therefore the sense of Kagami Biraki is “to open the Kagami Mochi”.
Usually held on the second Sunday of each new year (traditionally on the eleventh day of January) the Kagami Biraki is celebrated in Japan. For the many Dojo’s, this is a very ancient and respected celebration, even if not completely maintaining its religious profile.
In preparation, the katana, the armour and the mirrors were cleaned in order to clear the mind and to reinforce the duty and the dedication of the Samurai for the new year. This was also involved in eating of mochi with members of the clan or family, contributed to reinforce the alliances between the Samurai.
During the celebration of the Kagami Biraki the Kagami Mochi did not have to be cut with a blade (it was not a sign of making a wish), but were rather broken with the hands. Nowadays Kagami Biraki is synonymous with “breaking of the rice cake”. Traditionally, the head of the family offers the Kagami Mochi to Toshigami (the God of the New Year).
Kagami Mochi is composed of two mochi, one large with a smaller one placed above it, and then a “daidai” citrus fruit on top in the hope that the household will flourish “generation after generation” (which is also pronounced “daidai”). However, nowdays many people ignore the “real” tradition and improvise by putting a mandarin (mikan) on top because these are easier to obtain and cheaper. The Kagami Mochi is then placed on a small table called sampo. Chestnuts, lobsters and other kinds of food that are said to bring luck are used as decoration. The Kagami Mochi is then eaten on the day of Kagami Biraki.