New Year’s in Japan is a quiet but lavishly celebrated affair, with plenty of delicious traditional food prepared in advance. Many of the meals enjoyed during this time of year are accompanied by special osechi dishes.
Osechi, traditional Japanese New Year foods
In Japan, the beginning of each year holds a special siginificance in its spiritual and culinary landscape. The first week or so of January is still commonly referred to as o-shogatsu, an honorific name that goes back to the olden days when the harvest gods of the new year would be welcomed into every household with homemade dishes.
The recipes for these dishes, which continue to be enjoyed today, often vary from family to family. Each one carries a particular meaning that pertains in some way to good luck, fortune, or longevity.
Jubako lacquered boxes
Although these dishes are individually prepared, they’re often packed into decorative lacquered boxes saved for the best of occasions. These boxes are made to stack on top of one another, and the dishes inside them are saved in this way during the New Year season. Like their contents, the stacking boxes represent a wish — for happiness in the home to “stack up” in the coming months.
Red lacquerware Jubako Boxes
The Osechi usually consists of three or four boxes. Our recipe collection is also categorized in the way.
The first box is rather like starters including Datemaki fishcake omelet, Kazunoko herring roe, Kurikinton chestnut and sweet potato paste, Kuromame simmered black beans, shrims and sardines.
The second box is for pickles and also grilled fish and meat. The third box is the main, Onishime and Chikuzen-ni which are braised vegetables and chicken.
Here are popular osechi recipes you may want to try at home.
Herring roe, usually seen as a cluster of small eggs, is prepared to wish for prosperity for one’s descendents and the continuity of the family line.Kyoto-style Kazunoko with Bonito for New Year's
The golden hue of candied chestnuts are said to call in good fortune and wealth.Homemade! Osechi Kuri-Kinton
Because their shapes resemble the bent backs of the elderly, shrimp, prawn, and lobster are enjoyed at New Year’s meals to wish for a long life.Osechi Shrimp
The holes running through the root represent a bright, unobstructed future.One Pot Recipe! Pickled Lotus Root for Osechi!
Black was traditionally associated with protection from evil. Mame, the Japanese word for bean, also is pronounced similarly to the word for “diligent” or “hard-working”.Simmered Black Soybeans for Osechi
Looking at these recipes, you might have noticed that many of these dishes involve liberal amounts of salt, soy sauce, or sugar. That’s because osechi have traditionally been cook-ahead dishes that keep long.
Although this is amazingly helpful for busy moms during the hectic holidays, the strong flavors and seasonings aren’t there just for domestic practicalities. Since fire was considered sacred, it was custom to keep cooking at a minimum during the spiritiually significant o-shogatsu.
New Year’s in Japan is rich with ceremonies, customs, and dishes that hold special meaning. The experience of sitting down for a traditional meal on January 1st can be a mysterious one, but centuries of cooking haven’t been for naught. Even if you only remember a few of the meanings, each bite you take this New Year will be a delicious one.