What Do Japanese People Eat during the New Year Celebration?
People in several countries around the world celebrate the New Year in unique ways. Considered the best moment of happiness, everyone is encouraged to forget what they had done wrong in the past and start doing new good things in the coming year. The New Year celebration becomes even more special with long holidays, allowing everyone to spend an extended period of joy and pleasure with their families and loved ones.
Let’s see what Japanese people eat specially during the New Year celebration.
Toshi Koshi Soba
On New Year’s Eve or the evening of December 31, many Japanese people get themselves prepared for eating Soba, superstitiously believing it will bring them a happy, healthy, and prosperous life. Soba can be chewed and swallowed easily and it is recognized as a symbol of longevity. As Soba is easy to slice, it is believed to allow all bad lucks of the previous year to be cut away from one’s life, making it desirable to welcome good ones in the coming year.
There are a few strange ideas to mark the New Year with eating Soba. For some families, Soba is preferred to be eaten for dinner on December 31. However, it is quite traditional and superstitious to see some people enjoying Soba while listening to the temple bell tolling 108 times at midnight on the same day.
All types of Soba dishes are preferred to celebrate the New Year. It can be hot or cold ones. However, eaters are suggested to eat up their Soba dishes in order to make their wishes come true.
As the New Year is coming, Japanese people will collaborate with one another to prepare Mochi, as part of their unique tradition to be prepared for the festive season. Finely prepared Mochi (Kagami Mochi) is formed from two round pieces of Mochi cake with a tangerine (Daidai) placed on top. Considered a unique culture, Japanese people will offer such ornamental Mochi to their gods and goddesses to reflect their traditional way of welcoming the New Year.
The ornamental Mochi offered to gods and goddesses will be removed from the stand and eaten on January 11. It is never suggested to cut the decorative Mochi with a knife or a sharp cutlery. It must be broken into smaller pieces before being eaten by using one’s hands or a wooden hammer.
There are some interesting ways to eat Mochi properly.
It is quite common to see Japanese people eat Mochi fresh. They normally put a favorite topping, varying in Kinako powder, Shoyu, mashed red bean, and mashed pumpkin, on this soft and tasty dumpling and eat. That’s it.
Additionally, Kinako Mochi, Mochi topped with Kinako powder, has become highly popular among the Japanese during the New Year celebration, thanks to its uniquely sweet taste and excellent aroma.
Some Japanese people prefer to mix Mochi with Shoyu as it is already wrapped in seaweed. This is known as Isobe Maki. A perfect blend of soft and delicious Mochi, sweet-salty Shoyu, and healthy Japanese seaweed is worth savoring.
Aside from eating fresh, Mochi can be more flavorful when being grilled over a low fire. As Mochi is heated, it will swell but softness and fragrance can still be found inside of it. According to the Japanese, grilled Mochi is ideal for being a winter delight.
Boiling Mochi in hot soup, known as Ozouni, is also considered a special treat for the New Year. It is recommended to add some chicken broth, together with chicken meat, fish, seaweed, vegetables, and local ingredients, to get a perfect taste out of Ozouni.
Another recommended Mochi-inspired menu is Oshiruko, Mochi mixed with red bean soup. Aside from boiled Mochi, grilled Mochi can also be added as a favorite topping to guarantee a uniquely sweet and refreshing flavor backed by signature aroma to be a one-of-a-kind Japanese menu.
Osechi Ryouri is characterized by an array of colorful dishes packed together in special boxes called Jubako, which are eaten communally on the New Year’s Day until January 3. Osechi Ryouri is arguably the most important meal of the year, representing a wish for the coming year. Let’s take a look at a variety of auspicious menus added into the specially prepared boxes.
Kuromame (Black Soy Bean)
For the Japanese, Kuromame, characterized by sweet black soy bean, is a symbol of good health and longevity.
Kazunoko (Fish Eggs)
Eating Kazunoko during the New Year is believed to bless Japanese people with successful reproduction of good children from one generation to another.
Gomame (Seasoned Dried Sardine)
According to the Japanese’s belief, eating Gomame will bring abundant harvest and fertility throughout the coming year.
Tataki Gobou or Kinpira Gobou (Seasoned Burdock Root)
As the roots of the burdock plant go deep into the ground, Tataki Gobou or Kinpira Gobou is eaten as a wish for good health and personal stability.
Ebi (Boiled Shrimp)
Ebi is a symbol of longevity famously eaten during the New Year celebration.
Kurikinton (Sweet Chestnuts)
With the appearance of a golden yellow color, Kurikinton is used to symbolize treasures of gold and silver, representing wealth and financial stability.
Kamaboko (Japanese Fishcake)
The shape of Kamaboko is said to resemble the rising sun with red and white colors. This special menu is used famously for auspicious occasions, especially the New Year.
Tai (Sea Bass)
The word “Tai” is a homophone of “Medetai”, which means celebration.
Konbu Maki (Dried Herring Wrapped in Seaweed)
The word “Konbu” is homophonous with “Yorokobu, meaning delight or enjoyment.