Osechi – Japanese New Year Festival (Japanese New Year Food)

“Osechi ryori” is a meal that most Japanese eat at the beginning of the new year. No matter how you search throughout Japan, you won’t find Osechi in Japanese restaurant menus. It is only cooked and enjoyed for the first few days of January and at Japanese homes.

Osechi-ryōri (御 節 料理 or お 節 料理) is a Japanese New Year meal. This tradition dates back to the Heian period (794-1185). Osechi is different because it is contained in special boxes called jūbako (重 箱); Similar to bento boxes, jūbako boxes are often neatly folded before and after use.

The original meaning of osechi is that this dish helps housewives (and their families) get lucky and “survive” through the New Year’s days when shops and restaurants across Japan are closed. Osechi food can be prepared and kept in a cool place for several days without being damaged. Most often, everything is usually layered in lacquer boxes and has several compartments.
Originally, the word osechi, originally called o-sechi, means a season or a special occasion. Japanese New Year is one of the five festivals (節 句 sekku) in the Kyoto court. The custom of welcoming these special holidays was imported from China. Traditionally, during the first three days of the New Year, it was customary to cook and eat healthy meals, except for making zoni soup. This dish is cooked before Tet because in Tet, women will not cook.

In earlier times, osechi consisted of only nimono, vegetables boiled in soy sauce, sugar or mirin. Over many generations, the number of dishes featured in osechi has increased. Today, osechi includes any dishes dedicated to the New Year and if Western foods are added, it is called “Western osechi” (西洋 お 節 seiyō-osechi); There are also Chinese “osechi” types (中華 風 お 節 chūkafū osechi). And, traditionally, osechi is made at home, but it is also available at many restaurants and shops, such as supermarket chains 7-Eleven.

In families, people eat homemade toshi-koshi soba (年 越 し 蕎麦) on New Year’s Eve. The name of this type of noodle means “Vietnamese buckwheat” (“years”: year, “Vietnamese”: beyond, meaning “to the new year”, soba is buckwheat rice). Although there are many meanings associated with this type of noodle such as longevity, health and vitality in the coming year, this tradition has a more practical meaning: allowing wives to cook a simple dish for them. Take a rest after a busy year of cooking delicacies for everyone. It is believed that if leftovers, even a single toshi-koshi soba, will encounter bad things in the new year.

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