Spending the New Year in Japan means getting to know a series of traditions that we are not used to.
But one of them is to make anyone’s mouth water. The first meal of the year in the country is called osechi-ryori and, like almost everything the Japanese do, it has a strong symbology to wish good things for the new year.
The first meal of the new year in Japan
Osechi-ryori it is the traditional food of the New Year holiday in Japan.
But this is not a recent custom, on the contrary, it has a long tradition that dates back to the Heian period (794-1185).
Originally, it was considered taboo to cook meals over an open fire during the first three days of the New Year, so stackable boxes filled with long-lasting foods were prepared by December 31, for consumption on the first three days of the New Year.
The composition of the first meal of the new year in Japan
While there are no issues associated with cooking it during the holiday period today, many families still enjoy osechi-ryori, largely due to the auspicious associations associated with its ingredients:
Shrimps ( hey ) = the long beard and curved back symbolize the desire for a long life.
herring roe ( kazu no ko ) = a cluster of shiny herring eggs represents the kind of healthy offspring you want for your family.
black soybean ( kuro mom ) = mom also meaning “health”, is for health in the New Year.
Golden fish ( tai ) = tai it is fortuitous, because it is part of the word medetai, which means auspicious in Japanese.
Seaweed ( konbu ) = konbu sounds a lot like yorokobu the Japanese word for happiness.
Lotus Root ( renkon ) = the lotus root has many holes, which allow us to see through it and enter the New Year.
Other New Year’s Traditions in Japan
In addition to the first meals of the new year, there are also other important traditions around this time.
The beginning of the year is a spiritual time for the Japanese, when the New Year gods are said to descend from the heavens and exist in the earthly realm. In order to guide the gods to them, many homes, businesses and holy places place pine and bamboo decorations known as kadomatsu on either side of the input paths.
Another tradition is drinking sake. Traditionally served on New Year’s Day, this special sake is said to ward off last year’s bad luck and aid health and longevity in the new year. Known as O-toso using the kanji 屠 (defeat) and 蘇 (evil spirit), the medicinal herbs used in this mixture aid digestion and protect against colds, perfect for winter New Year’s parties.
And you can’t miss the rice ball either. New Year’s rice cake is another festive item that contains the spirit of the gods. Its round shape pays homage to one of the most sacred items in all of Japan, the mirror of the sun goddess Amaterasu.