“Do you celebrate Christmas in Japan?”
“No, we don’t. We enjoy Christmas.”
Japanese people love different cultures. We know how to adapt and enjoy to make our life more colourful. Christmas is one of them. Although we roast chicken (not turkey), Father Christmas comes to give presents to Japanese children, Christmas cake is sold at a bakery and streets are decorated. It is party time.
Instead, we celebrate New Year, just like we do for Christmas in Australia. The day is the most important holiday for us in Japan. Traditionally it is the event to invite a god (one of Shinto’s gods) who brings a household happiness for the new year. In modern days, at least for me and my family, the day is for family or the loved ones to get together, and celebrate and pray for each other’s health and happiness for the new year. What we do is pretty much the same though. We clean our house before New Year, decorate our house in certain way, go to a shrine to pray and cook&eat the traditional food- Osechi.
Osechi is a set of several dishes prepared for New Year’s Celebration and normally packed in Jubako – which is like a big bento box (but 3 layers!). Just as an obento, Osechi contains several kinds of dishes. Each dish in Osechi has each meaning to describe the reason why it is served for this celebration. Osechi is prepared a day before New Year. The amount is big since Osechi was traditionally meant to be eaten for the next 3 days, and women should not work in the kitchen during those 3days except for preparation of Ozoni (Mochi/ Rice Cake in soup).
As you can imagine, my mum’s Osechi is wonderful. I went back to Japan to eat her Osechi every New Year on the first 4-5 years in Australia (I have stopped doing that now since Japan is too cold for me in winter). And then, it was last year. I realised how much I missed my mum’s Osechi! So I decided to make it by myself. Of course my mum assisted me with some tips and advice over the phone. I have to say it was pretty good for the first time. This year I did it again. Here is the menu:
Kuromame (black beans cooked in sugar and soy sauce): While mame means beans, it is also used to describe the person who has dedication. This is a wish to become a person who can dedicate.
Konbu Maki (rolled kelp): Kobu sounds associated with “Yorokobu” , which means joy.
Kohaku Namasu (pickled daikon and carrot): Red and white is the colour for celebration in Japan.
Tazukuri (dried sardines caramelised with sugar and soy sauce): My family calls as “Gomame”. “Tazukuri” means making a rice field, describing an abundant harvest.
Ebino Umani (prawns cooked in soy sauce, sake and mirin): It is to wish for a long life until we stoop from old age, just like a shape of prawn.
Kurikinton (chestnuts and sweet potatoes paste): The yellow colour describes gold and richness.
Nishime (simmered vegetables): traditional Japanese dish which was eaten from a long time ago. I use Daikon, Carrot and Konnyaku.
Koya-dofu (simmered dried tofu): The square shape looks like a shield for protection.
Tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette): This is the substitute for Datemaki- egg and seafood extended mix omelette, which I cannot obtain here. It represents knowledge and learning from the rolled shape (books in ancient time were rolled).
It takes so much time to make Osechi since there are several dishes involved. But I feel so happy to look at the completed Osechi. Don’t you think it is beautiful? It is beautiful for both your eyes and mouth. I believe that it is the best dish to eat on the first day of the year.