Much like Christmas in many western countries, New Year’s is a time for family in Japan. No ball drops and champagne popping over here, just time spent with family huddled under the kotatsu, eating mikan and watching New Year’s specials on TV. There are many New Year’s traditions in Japan, but the most delicious tradition is the eating of osechi ryori, special food eaten to give thanks and wish for happiness and prosperity in the new year.
Osechi ryori is characterized by an array of colorful dishes packed together in special boxes called jubako, which are eaten communally on New Year’s Day. Since New Year’s is a time for rest in Japan (according to tradition, nothing should be cooked on New Year’s Day), preparation of osechi ryori is typically finished before New Year’s Eve. Many of the dishes are either dried or contain a lot of sugar or vinegar to preserve the food and enough is made to last a few days.
Osechi ryori is arguably the most important meal of the year, each dish serving as a symbol or wish for the coming year. The food is even eaten in a special way by using chopsticks that are rounded on both ends; one side for humans to use, one side for the gods. Let’s take a look at the meanings behind some of the traditional osechi ryori foods.