Fireworks. Countdown to the new year. A bowl of black-eyed peas. Just a few of the American traditions that mark the New Year. How does that compare to our Japanese counterparts?
Like Americans, many Japanese wish to start the new year with a clean slate. In many Japanese homes, a deep clean of the entire home is a common occurrence. Every nook-and-cranny of the home gets attention as the year draws to a close.
As I was growing up, New Year’s Eve always seemed like an adult holiday. The adults would dress up and go out for the night, leaving behind kids to be entertained by sitters. Japanese find a way to include children in the celebration by pochi-bukuro [little decorative envelopes filled with money!]. Referred to as otoshidama, the envelopes often are festooned with the zodiac animal of the year. [Psst…2022 is the Year of the Tiger.]
Traditions usually have a food association, which for many Americans means a heaping bowl of black-eyed peas for luck in the new year. In Japan, many people enjoy a bowl of soba noodles on New Year’s Eve as noodles symbolize a long life. On New Year’s Day, the tradition is to enjoy a bowl of ozouni and a bento box of osechi. The ozouni is a bowl of soup typically consisting of chicken, various vegetables, and almost always with mochi, which is meant to represent longevity because of its stretchy nature. Osechi is a variety of foods in a bento box that might include sweet black beans to represent hard work, kobumaki or rolled kelp for happiness, shrimp that is either peeled or tempura for longevity, and gobo [burdock root] for strength and stability.
For many Japanese, the celebration of the new year carries on beyond New Year’s Eve and Day into the first few days of the year. Many people trek to a shrine to pay respects and wish for a healthy and happy new year.
At Sake Social, we suggest toasting the New Year with sake. Here’s to 2022!