With only 2 weeks left of this year, I’m beginning to get into the holiday mood!
In Japan, the first thing that comes to mind when you think about new year, is without a doubt osechi cuisine.
Osechi cuisine is a special part of Japanese cuisine eaten only at new year. It is a lucky charm, offered to the god of the New Year named ‘Toshigami’, who brings blessings of joy, and wishes for good health and happiness for the entire family for the coming year.
Originally, osechi cuisine was offered to god at the turn of the new season, however because New Year’s is considered the most important time of year, osechi cuisine became referred to as the food of the New Year.
Osechi cuisine is packed into a heavy box consisting of many layers. The layers are stacked on top of one another and is said to have the meaning of ‘stacking fortune and happiness’.
The contents of osechi cuisine and the different types of dishes
The contents of osechi varies from place to place and even from home to home.
If for example you moved to a new location in Japan, you may be surprised by dishes you have never seen before, but all of them have auspicious meanings and wishes.
Today, I’m going to introduce to you a few of the standard dishes you’ll find in a osechi box!
Black soy beans
Black soy beans are large beans, black in colour, with a sweet taste.
They carry the meaning of ‘work seriously and live in good health’.
Kazunoko is Herring roe.
With the grainy Herrings roe, we wish for the prosperity of our descendants.
Prawns are similar to the stereotype of the elderly, with their hunched backs and long beards, so they are eaten for the wish of longevity. The saying in Japanese is ‘Let’s live well until the hips bend’.
Kamaboko is fish paste.
Red is a charm against evil spirits and white is purity. ‘red and white’ has been used in combination for a long time in Japan as a sign of congratulations. This kamaboko is shaped like a half-moon, which represents the sunrise.
Salmon wrapped in kombu.
Kombu maki wishes for ‘eternal happiness and a long life’.
Date maki is a sweet, rolled omelette.
As date maki resembles important documents and scroll paintings from the olden days, it is eaten with the hope of increasing knowledge and developing cultural awareness.
Kuri kinton is candied sweet potatoes and chestnuts.
Kuri kinton is gold in colour, like money from old times, which is why it brings good luck and prosperity.
Tadzukuri is candied sardines.
A long time ago, sardine powder was used as fertilizer for a bumper crop, and so the meaning for tadzukuri is ‘May the crops grow abundantly’.
Osechi is a traditional part of Japanese cuisine, and has inherited various things over the years such as the types of foods, the meanings that go with them, and special ingredients that have been made to be packed into a tiered box.
Knowing the meaning of each dish will increase the level of enjoyment when you bite into them.
New Year’s Day, a day with a different morning to usual. With the Japanese custom of gathering around at the table with family and friends to enjoy osechi cuisine and ‘ozouni’ (a rice cake dish) to celebrate the beginning of the new year.
Hoping that you have a great holiday and wishing you a happy new year, from everyone here at Tokyo Cocoro Japanese Language School!