We’ve outlined a few of the quirks that make a Japanese Christmas fun, and now it’s time to discuss the holiday that is traditionally even more special to the Japanese than Christmas: the New Year’s holiday, or Oshogatsu. It is the most important holiday in Japan.
Oshogatsu means a fresh start for the Japanese, so the days leading up to New Year’s Eve are busy in preparation of getting rid of things associated with the old year and welcoming new opportunities. Of course, food is a huge part of the holiday tradition, so in addition to cleaning their homes thoroughly and settling unfinished business, the Japanese prepare a New Year’s feast known as osechi ryori.
Osechi ryori consists of boxes called jubako filled with seasonal delicacies brimming with symbolism.
- Kohaku-Namasu (marinated daikon (radish) and carrots and kamaboko (fish cakes) – Good omen embodied in their red and white colors
- Kuromame (simmered black beans) and gobo kinpira (burdock root) – Good health
- Kazunoko (marinated herring roe) – Fertility
- Tazukuri (candied sardines) – Abundant harvest
- Kurikinton (mashed sweet potatoes and sweet chestnuts) – Wealth
- Datemaki (rolled sweet omelet with fish paste or mashed shrimp) – The wish for many auspicious days
- Konbumaki (kelp rolls) – Joy and happiness
- Ebi (shrimp) – Longevity
- Tai no shioyaki (sea bream grilled with salt) – Felicitous fish based on the play on words with tai, which sounds like medetai, meaning an auspicious event
Other New Year’s Day foods include zoni, a soup made of clear broth and mochi (rice cakes), and toshi-koshi soba, noodles that symbolize “year crossing.”
Typically, these special meals are prepared and stored by New Year’s Eve so that no one needs to cook during the three days of the New Year’s celebration, until January 3.
Keeping the Japanese tradition alive here in New York, these boxes are for sale throughout the city. Welcome the New Year with auspicious Japanese cuisine and celebrate new opportunities in Japanese style.
- Mitsuwa – 595 River Road in Edgewater, New Jersey
- Hakubai – The Kitano Hotel at 66 Park Avenue and 38th Street
Serving osechi ryori at lunch and dinner on January 1 and 2.
- East Restaurant – 366 3rd Avenue between 26th and 27th Streets
- Nippon Restaurant – 155 E. 52nd Street between Lexington and 3rd Avenues
- Katagiri – 224 E. 59th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues
- Sunrise Mart – 4 Stuyvesant Street at 3rd Avenue and 494 Broome Street between Wooster Street and West Broadway
Another New Year’s tradition in Japan is placing kagami mochi around the house, usually in front of the family butsudan, or miniature Buddhist altar. Literally meaning “mirror rice cake,” kagami mochi consists of two rice cakes on top of a sheet of konbu and topped by an orange called daidai. Kagami mochi symbolizes the coming and going of the years and the continuity of family. Like osechi ryori, this New Year’s decoration is also mass produced in traditional and cute styles.