Happy New Year 2018 I wish you a very warm and joyful new year. May your journey always bring many memorable and beautiful moments.
I wrote about Japanese new year meal for my first post of 2018 and hope these photos and short descriptions can guide you to understand the meaning and way of having Osechi.
We Japanese have several unique traditions for celebrating New Year’s. One is having a traditional New Year’s meal called Osechi in Japanese. You may have heard about the meal before. Traditionally people use Osechi to both pay tribute to gods and wish good luck and good health to our family by sharing the offering from gods.
The style of the meal looks like a Japanese bento, which has variety of food placed in a square box.
Traditionally the Osechi meal is served in five layered stackable wooden boxes known as Jyu-bako. Typically the wooden box is coated by Japanese Urushi Lacquer and has a beautiful traditional pattern on the outside. The first layer is called Ichi-no-Jyu and the second layer is called Ni-no-Jyu and is packed with vinegared and preserved food such as boiled and vinegared carrots and daikon radishes called Kouhaku Namasu. Kou-Haku means red and white which are the colors of carrots and radishes.
These layers also include Kuri-Kinton, which is mashed sweet potatoes with sweetened chestnuts and sweetened black beans called Kuro-Mame. The third layer, Sann-No-Jyu, has grilled items that are mostly seafood.
The fourth layer is called Yo-No-Jyu and is packed with stewed Items from cropped plants.
These dishes are based on people’s hometowns and vary slightly region by region. The way of packing also has some rules such as packing uneven numbers of pieces of food in each box and not leaving any empty compartments. The final tier is the fifth and is called Go-No-Jyu. This box is kept vacant to wish for future blessings from God and to be filled with a lot of good things in the coming year. In past generations like my grandmother’s prewar generation, Japanese people used to have big families and a lot of children. However, as family size became smaller than in the prewar generations, I guess that three tier or one tier Osechi become a more popular way of filling in Ju-bako.
Recently, an individual serving style, such as one plate Osechi, is a trend among the young Japanese generation.
Each dish has a significant meaning.
Shrimp is a symbol of long life because those curving shapes represent the figures of old people with crooked backs, so people wish to live until their back bones are bent like a shrimp. Lotus root has a lot of holes and we are able to see through the holes, so we eat lotus root to wish good fortune for the coming year. Kazunoko means herring roe and “Kazu” means number and “Ko” means child in Japanese, so a bunch of eggs is a symbol of fertility. In that way, we wish a fruitful year for our families. Isn’t this interesting?
The ways of celebrating and eating are a little different in each prefecture in Japan but, generally speaking, every December 31 and January 1, Japanese people have Osechi for their New Year’s celebration. In addition, there is Otoso, the Japanese Sake ceremony for greeting the New Year. Ozoni , the traditional rice cake and Mochi soup are also on people’s dining tables on January 1 . These are also very unique and there are a lot of other stories to tell but I am going to keep these stories for another time.