Kakizome – First Writing of the New Year

2 Jan

I am always looking for something new to celebrate, because I believe our lives should be filled with celebrations!

This year we decided to adopt a bit of the Japanese practice of kakizome or first writing.  On January 2nd (or over the New Year holiday from school), people in Japan make a special banner with the first writing of the New Year.  There are more traditions that go along with kakizome, including using special well water drawn on New Year’s day to make the ink, writing while facing the most auspicious cardinal direction, etc.


In our house, we used the iPad to look up kanji (Japanese characters) that we thought described a good year ahead.  Then we painted these kanji onto big sheets of paper using powdered tempera paint mixed with special tap water drawn from the kitchen sink!

I had to trace the kanji lightly in pencil for GoGoGirl to paint, while KarateKid was happy to copy the symbols himself.  GoGoGirl chose the kanji for “family” and “food” – no surprise there!


KarateKid chose “learning” and “happiness” for his banner, and also made a separate page for the “karate” kanji.


I wrote “health” and “cleanliness” (that was a hint to my family to wash the breakfast dishes on the counter behind them!).


MechDaddy really enjoyed the activity – he misses out on so much having to go to work most days!  He would really prefer to stay home and play games and make projects with us.  He did a bunch of banners including one that had “serenity” and “balance,” one that was “prosperity” and “friends,” and at least one more that just said “love.”


It was a really engaging activity that gave us a chance to discuss traditions in other cultures, paint-and-brush techniques, different forms of writing, and our wishes for the new year. Both KarateKid and MechDaddy said that learning traditional Japanese calligraphy is something they’d be interested in – do you know of any good resources for this?



In the afternoon, we decided to pull out a couple drawing-related board games to play, choosing Scribblish and Doodle Dice.

Scribblish, by Cranium, is a little bit like playing the “telephone game” on paper.  Each person starts with a piece of paper and a caption, then draws what they think that caption represents (something like snowball fight or I slept on a cupcake last night!).  The papers roll up into special plastic scroll pieces, and the scrolls are then passed around the table (according to the roll of the die – left, right, or scrambled).  Looking at the scroll in your hands, you carefully pull the paper down to show just the picture – not the caption – and you write a caption that you think is fitting.  The next person has to draw a picture that goes with the caption you wrote, and so on, until there are four pictures and four captions on each piece of paper.


Then each player has to vote on which scroll she had originally based only on the final picture.  It is laugh-out-loud fun, but doesn’t work as well in our family of unbalanced abilities (I have to read and write for GoGoGirl, and most of her pictures are hard to decipher).  We don’t pull it out often, but thought it was fitting today – and we had lots of laughs over it.

Doodle Dice is a better fit for us right now – you have to roll your six dice up to three times, Yahtzee-style, trying to match one of the pictures on the cards – if you can match the card, you keep it.  The first person to have one card of each color wins, though mostly we use this game as a filler between other activities and so we don’t often play it all the way to the end.


The kids talked about how certain symbols on the blocks (the line, the angle, the curve) reminded them of certain strokes in their kanji – I love to watch them make connections like that.  Did you do anything different on this second day of the New Year?

4 Responses to “Kakizome – First Writing of the New Year”

  1. Liese4 January 2, 2012 at 7:38 pm #


    Here is one site that has some character writing lessons, I’ve used it for a co-op. We have a Japanese American society here that offers lessons, maybe you have something like that?

    Great idea too!

  2. Sara January 3, 2012 at 12:49 am #

    I love that idea for a New Year’s activity! And they look really cool too.

  3. Stephanie January 3, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

    What fun! The calligraphy is beautiful, and I am tempted by that game. (No! No more games! :-) )

  4. Melissa Calderon January 4, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    This is such a great project to do with my class. I’m thinking also having my students write in their native language (dual language English- Spanish class) to explain their purpose. I would like to know where did you get the Japanese characters for such inspirational words? I wasn’t able to find them. Greetings from the inventors of Doodle Dice! We’re glad to see your family enjoys the game.