Japanese New Years Traditions

Now that Christmas has come and gone, in a Japanese household, we have to start thinking of the biggest holiday of the year, New Years or Oshogatsu.  January 1st, is called Gan jitsu.  In the olden days, it was thought that the new year’s god, Toshigami-sama,  brought happiness and good harvest.  So, to welcome this god, they cleaned their homes, decorated the house with a pair kadomatsu, which is a decorative piece of bamboo and pine leaves that is traditionally placed flanking the front door and  a holy rope called a shime nawa

  The first photo shows a pair of kadomatsu.  Notice how the  three bamboo are sliced diagonally and are at different heights.  It is said that they are representing Heaven, Man and Earth, just as in Chinese teachings.  The second photo shows the holy rope around the bamboo.   If you’ve ever been to a Japanese shrine, you often see large trees with a white holy rope around it’s trunk.  It’s to ward off evil spirits and designates the tree as holy.  There’s more symbolism in all these traditions than we realize.

But, most important was to clean your house.  Now, Japanese homes are relatively small is size and they didn’t have much furniture.  So, they would wipe down everything from windows to walls to light bulbs.  I try to do this to the best of my abilities – but hey, I have to real about this and just realize I can’t do it all.

My suggestion is to get rid of as much as you can and wipe the house down.  One little tip I like is to add a little peppermint oil to my bucket of water so the room smells like mint and feels so clean.  A good way to bring in the new year.

But, most important in a Japanese household is the new year’s food or Osechi Ryori.  If you’ve ever seen a traditional Osechi in a tiered lacquered box, you will understand that it’s truly a work of art.  In the past, many of these foods took days to prepare and were highly prized.  Because of the time and cost to prepare osechi, many families have stopped making it at home and now order it from specialty shops.  Here is fabulous photo of osechi.
Japanese traditional dishes for new year

In a four tiered box, traditionally, food eaten with sake is put in the top box.  The second box would have grilled food.  Stewed food in the third, and vinegar flavored food and vegetables was placed in the bottom box.

Again, symbolism plays a big part in what type of food is served.

The prawns are a symbol of long life with the curved back and long whiskers.  Black beans or kuro mame;  the word mame or beans has a homonym that means to work diligently, so you ate these bean to become mame or diligent.  The colors of red and white means auspicious, so the fish cake are colored red (pink) and white.  There is a fish roe called kazunoko, and from it’s homonym, it means having lots of children.  Lots of rolled foods such as the egg roll datemaki or seaweed roll kobumaki, are shaped like rolled scrolls.  They symbolize knowledge and culture.

In my parent’s household, we didn’t have such a fancy display in the tiered box.  Our family in Hawaii has too many relatives to make this traditional tiered osechi.  It’s is a much more relaxed and local style.  It reflects the islands.  My mother cooks for all the relatives and we have a mixture of traditional foods that include nishime, which is a stewed root vegetable dish.  We also have sashimi and sushi, and other Japanese favorites.  But regardless of what we have, we enjoy gathering with all the family and welcome the new year.

In our home, we invite our Japanese and non-Japanese friends for a variety of traditional and non-traditional foods.  We like to share and introduce some of our culture with our friends and neighbors and it makes me keep my connection with Japanese culture.  We enjoy eating with all our five senses and also with the intention that our ancestors hoped for us in developing such a variety of wonderful foods.

To everyone, thanks again for reading Asian Lifestyle Design and Happy New Year, 2014!  Wishing you all good health, love and prosperity.

 

 


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