Oshogatsu, which is the New Year, is considered the most important holiday in the Japanese tradition.
It is celebrated by spending time with friends and family and by eating Osechi-ryōri, which consists of special traditional New Years day foods. Each of these foods has a special significance and is believed to bring health, prosperity and good luck. It is considered bad luck to do any kind of work on this day, including cooking, so these traditional foods are prepared in large quantities, days before the onset of the New Year.
Osechi-ryōri is served in beautiful, multi-tiered, lacquered boxes called Jubako. The foods are placed in each box in a way that their color, smells and tastes compliment one another. Most of the foods are prepared so that they last in the Jubakos for a few days without spoiling and can be enjoyed for many days to come.
My mother in law, Atsuko, makes the most amazing Osechi-ryōri every year. Her painstaking efforts are thoroughly appreciated by the whole family who enjoy all the delicious foods she spoils us with.
Look how gorgeous it all is.
We begin the meal by toasting the New Year and drinking the ritual o-toso. O-toso is a herbal sake, which is believed to protect one from sickness and misfortune.
The entire family eats out of the Jubakos and are expected to try at least one of each kind of the foods prepared as each one has a special significance.
Some of the food we eat are:
( Food descriptions taken from http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art39542.asp)
Datemaki (sweet egg omelet roll): Slices of rolled omelet. Its golden hue symbolizes gold and wealth while the egg itself represents fertility and children.
Ebi (shrimp): The spine of shrimp are curled like the backs of the elderly. Those who eat shrimp on the New Year hope to live to a ripe old age.
Kamaboko (steamed fish cake): Store-bought, kamaboko usually has a pink rim on the outer edge of white fishcake that is shaped in a half-dome log.
Kazunoko (herring roe): Crunchy, salty fish eggs that are held together in a thin membrane unlike other fish eggs that are loose. Kazunoko represents many offspring.
Kinpira Gobo (burdock root): The sturdy burdock root splits at the end and the one who eats gobo on the New Year wishes for his luck to split and multiply.
Kuri kinton (sweet potato mashed with chestnut): The golden color represents prosperity.
Kuromame (black beans): Simmered in sugar, these sweet black beans are eaten for good health in the coming year.
Nimono (simmered vegetables): Usually, cut root vegetables and mushrooms are simmered in dashi, mirin and soy sauce.
Shin takenoko (bamboo shoots): This fast-growing plant symbolizes wishes for prosperity to grow quickly.
Tazakuri (baby sardines): These tiny little fish are used to fertilize rice crops so as an osechi food, they represent a bountiful harvest.
We also eat specially prepared mochi, which is a Japanese rice cake made of glutinous rice.
The children love making fresh mochi and stuffing them with sweet red bean paste.
What a wonderful way to begin the year!
Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!
Happy New Year!