Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu. Happy New Year!
Yesterday, we celebrated Oshogatsu (the new year) — Japan’s most important holiday — with family and friends. Every year we spend at least three days shopping, prepping and cooking for this occasion, and each year it really tires us out. Our legs ache from standing for days on end, while our arms are sore from chopping and heavy lifting. In fact, every year we even talk about how we’d like to simplify — or even quit — the tradition, until the end of the year arrives and we find ourselves once again excited, planning ever more elaborate parties.
So forgive us for the late posting. We would have posted these photos yesterday, but we were on our feet, non-stop from 6:30am until 12:30pm with barely 10 minutes to sit down.
Like all important cultural events, food is central to the celebration. Pictured above is one of the tiers of jubako (lacquered strays) chock-full of osechi ryori, the typical food enjoyed during Oshogatsu. Placed around the boiled sweet shrimp and salmon rolled in daikon (giant radish) are, clockwise from upper left: Kamaboko (fish cakes) in red and white, Japan’s auspicious colors (pink and orange are considered red); ikura (salmon eggs); datemaki (rolled fish and egg cake) the color of sunshine and gold; kombu maki (rolled kelp, simmered in sweet sauce) and tazukuri (dried sardines). Placed on top are several slices of renkon (lotus root) cut into flower shapes.
Pictured at left, the lower box holds simmered buri (winter hamachi, or yellowtail), sato imo (mountain potatoes), renkon (the lotus is a Buddhist symbol) and shiitake mushrooms, topped with Kyoto carrots (naturally deep red) cut into the shape of ume (plum) blossoms, which we look forward to seeing in spring.
Flanking the boxes on the left and right are symbols of fertility: A bowl of crunchy kazunoko (herring roe) to bestow many children, and tazukuri (literally, “to make rice fields”). The name hails from a time small fish were used as fertilizer. Osechi is a centuries-old tradition, and it’s interesting to see how such names and traditions survive.
Fertility is represented again above, left; in the form of kuromame (simmered black beans), while kurikinton (sweet simmered chestnuts and sweet potato), the color of gold, bring good tidings of wealth.
More information about Osechi ryori, including recipes for many of these dishes pictured here — can be found on the Oshogatsu page on Savory Japan. There, we also share our family history surrounding the festival, and the reasons we choose to go to such lengths each year. We’ll share more food photos on the Savory Japan facebook page, and flower designs on the facebook Mizuya page.
May the good fortune described here come true for you, and may 2013 be a great one for you and your family!