Osechi Ryori is what most Japanese people eat on January 1 and sometimes up to January 3 or 4! An elaborate spread with various ingredients, each one having a significance. The foods that make up osechi can be prepared in advance and then sit out in a cool area for a few days without spoiling. Most often everything is placed in compartmentalized lacquer boxes that are stacked in layers. In the olden days, local produce would be used but the trend has moved to mostly seafood. These days most families order an osechi ryori set from department stores or local shops.
Lets check what some of the items signify!
Kohaku Kamaboko (red and white fish paste)
The round shape of these resembles the first sunrise of the New Year. Further, the pink (red) and white colors of the kamaboko are considered to be a good omen as red is said to ward off evil and white signifies purity.
Datemaki (rolled omelette mixed with fish paste)
In the olden days, people rolled documents that had important information into scrolls. Since this shape resembles a scroll, it signifies the flourishing of learning and culture.
Kuri Kinton (mashed sweet potatoes with chestnuts)
Literally meaning chestnut gold mash and symbolizes economic fortune. Therefore, hoping that eating this will bring good luck and prosperity for the New Year.
Kuromame (black beans)
These are eaten to pray for good health. “Mame ni hataraku” means to be a hard or busy worker.
Kobumaki (sliced dried herring or other fish wrapped in konbu seaweed & boiled)
One of the essential items, yorokobu means to feel happy and “kobu” simply refers to happiness. Another symbolism is that of longevity as seaweed is good for health.
Tazukuri (candied sardines or anchovies)
Gomame means small fish as well as 50,000 grains of rice. In the olden days, farmers used dried sardines for an abundant harvest in the fields. So tazukuri is eaten to pray for a good harvest in the coming year.
Kazu no Ko (Herring roe)
As it contains many eggs, it represents the hope for an abundant harvest and well-being of one’s descendants.
Prawns or shrimp are on the plate to pray for a long life until you have a bent back and long beard (like a prawn)!
This is just the tip of the iceberg!
If you’re in Japan before New Years, visit department stores to see how pretty these Osechi Ryori sets look! It’s truly an art.
Here’s wishing you a very HAPPY NEW YEAR!