Oshōgatsu (お正月), or Japanese New Year, is one of the country’s most important holidays. Japanese New Year’s Eve – the celebrations for ōmisoka – is quite different to those in Europe. Ōmisoka is not the highlight of the New Year festivities, but rather the beginning, so the celebrations are much more low key. Japanese New Year begins with the sound of bell-ringing in Buddhist temples rather than spectacular fireworks. In every temple across the country the large bell is rung 108 times. It is said that with each peal of the bell each humankind’s 108 greed leaves the Earth, allowing everyone to start the new year free from sin and suffering. Many Japanese people use this as an opportunity for hatsumōde (初詣) – their first temple visit of the year – so that they can pray for health and happiness over the coming twelve months.
Oshōgatsu (お正月) – New Year in Japan
“Akemashite omedetō gozaimasu” or “あけましておめでとうございます” is how you wish someone “Happy New Year” in Japanese. But did you know that Japanese New Year actually has more in common with European Christmas celebrations than it does with our New Year parties? It’s the most important family celebration of the year, children receive gifts and there is a lot of eating and drinking. Osechi-ryōri – the Japanese New Year meal – is a well-established tradition and one of Japan’s most important culinary rituals. The meal is made up of different specialities and delicacies arranged decoratively in a beautiful box (jyu-bako), which is similar to a bentō. Osechi-ryōri is prepared in advance, before New Year’s Eve, so that nobody has to spend the first days of the new year in the kitchen.
A special meaning behind each food
It’s not just the custom itself that is important to Japanese people: the individual dishes and titbits that are served in the New Year boxes are also full of meaning. That’s because various positive characteristics are attributed to each of the different foods in the osechi-ryōri. The boxes symbolise the desire for happiness and prosperity to fill the new year – and people’s lives – bit by bit and bite by bite. Salt-grilled sea bream (tai no shioyaki), for example, is considered a particularly lucky food, while herring roe (kazu no ko) is said to guarantee healthy offspring in the new year. Seaweed stands for joy, while black soy beans represent good health. Ozōni – a soup made with mochi rice cakes – is also popular, since eating mochi at New Year symbolises longevity, stamina and good health.
Osechi-ryōri with a modern twist
The osechi-ryōri tradition goes back more than a thousand years.Classic osechi specialities include datemaki (sweet rolled omelette), kuri kinton (candied chestnuts with sweet potato), kuromame (sweet black soybeans) and su renkon (pickled lotus root). When it comes to serving these typical small, cold delicacies – which look beautiful in their boxes as well as being delicious – people are increasingly adding a modern twist to the osechi-ryōri ritual. Contemporary ingredients include roast beef and salad or fried Chinese foods. There are lots of variations. Let Kikkoman show you which specialities you can make for your very own osechi-ryōri party. A great approach is to prepare a variety of our different “Japas” – all mouth-wateringly seasoned with our Kikkoman Sauces, of course. They’re the ideal accompaniment for Japanese specialities!