Season’s greetings. 2016 is right around the corner and It’s an exciting time of year for the Japanese like any other country in the world. I mean who doesn’t celebrate the coming new year? Today I would like to briefly introduce you some Japanese customs and rituals associated with New year’s.
年越し蕎麦 ”Toshikoshi soba”
On new year’s eve, a typical ritual that we do to gain luck for the following year is to eat soba noodles. “Toshikoshi soba” meaning “year crossing noodles” are chosen since compared to udon noodles, they are easier to cut with teeth, and this action of eating the soba noodles is perceived as letting go of the hardships of the past and looking forward to the coming new year. Since traditionally most Japanese spend time at their homes on NYE, this dish is mostly served at homes. Some go out to popular soba restaurants and these places become packed with people on new year’s eve.
As for me, this year after bonenkai, we went to the cheap and fast soba stand “Fuji Soba.” This popular chain has reached 100 stores around Japan and the one I went to was the first store ever to open in 1966 and is situated in the heart of entertainment city Shibuya. Since the original purpose of this restaurant was to serve fast food to busy businessmen and merchants, this small store that can only accommodate up to 5 to 8 people at once has no seats so people eat at counters standing up. This style is called “tachigui soba” and these stands are often seen around train stations.
おせち料理 ”Osechi Ryori”
The most crucial plate eaten on the first three days of new years. A collection of traditional New Year’s dish such as “kazunoko,” “kobumaki,” “kurikinton” is served inside a stacked wooden box called “jubako.” There are at least 10 types of these dishes placed in one box and depending on the household, it can add up to 30 types. Osechi was originally made to wish for a rich harvest and prosperity of the coming new season. Each dish in osechi has a meaning. For example, “kazunoko,” a specially cooked fish eggs, symbolizes the wish to be blessed by new babies. Kazu means “number” and ko means “children.” Traditionally osechi ryori was prepared at homes towards the year end but now more and more people simply buy it at stores or order online.
Below is the picture of this year’s New Year’s feast at my boyfriend’s grandparent’s home. Like Christmas in the U.S., all the relatives gather on New Year’s Day. Osechi was served in regular plates instead of jubako.
お雑煮とぜんざいと鏡餅 ”Ozoni” and “Zenzai” and “Kagami mochi”
Sweet and Sticky rice cakes are every Japanese’s favorite and they’re especially eaten during this time of the year.
“Ozoni” is a special soup that we eat in the morning on New Year’s Day in Japan. The recipe and the way it’s cooked varies according to household and region. The common soup made in Kanto Region (Tokyo) is with soy sauce while the Kansai Region (Kyoto) uses miso.
“Zenzai,” an azuki red beans porridge with toasted mochi is considered as a dessert dish. This is not necessarily considered part of cruicial new year’s tradition but in many homes, it is served along with ozoni.
“Kagami Mochi,” which literally means “mirror mochi rice cakes” is a traditional new year’s decoration placed at homes from the end to the beginning of the new year. The typical design is two round mochi, the smaller placed a top the larger, and a Japanese orange mikan placed on top. Kagami mochi is thought to contain the pure spirit of rice “toshigami,” which is a god that bringings good harvest, the blessing of ancestors, and prosperity of the coming year. The decorated mochi is eaten after the day of “Kagami biraki” meaning “the opening day of kagami mochi”, which is Jan. 11. Just as the calendar turns December, kagami mochi pouched in plastic cases are found every where in super markets and even in convenience stores nowadays.