While working on a translation about osechi ryôri, the Japanese New Year’s meal, today, I came across a passage about how the meal is prepared in advance of the holidays to avoid using the cooking fire. From a practical standpoint, not having to cook while one’s extended family is visiting gives the primary household cook a chance to relax and spend time with the family. The other reason given is that using the kitchen fire during the year-end period makes Kôjin (荒神) the Fire God angry.
I suspect this folklore came about because someone in the late Heian Period (794-1185 CE), the era when the custom is said to have originated, accidentally burned down the house during the dead of winter and that this misfortune was attributed to Kôjin’s malice. From another standpoint, in a culture where houses were traditionally made of wood and paper, fire has been a constant worry historically. However, despite my best efforts to observe the customs of semi-secularized Shinto and Buddhism, I was not about to let the kitchen flames go out in my apartment at the year’s end.