To the Japanese the first day of the New Year is the most important and auspicious. Since
it symbolizes the year that' just begun, the day should be full of joy and void of any
stress, conflict or anger. In times past no work was to be done by anyone; this included
mercifully cleaning, washing dishes and other household tasks. So in order for (by and
large) wives and kitchen staff to enjoy the festivities, osechi ryori, or special
New Year cuisine, was developed. Most items are prepared in such a way that they can be
stored without refrigeration for the up to four days the festivities usually last.
While each household used to prepare its own osechi, with preparations starting as early
as December 25, nowadays many restaurants and department stores offer a wide variety of
osechi to make it a truly work-free New Year.
ryori differs from household to household but in general it is associated with health,
happiness, and a good harvest, and much of the food has special meanings. For example, tai
(sea bream) is associated with medetai, meaning joyous or auspicious; konbu
(kelp) is almost found in yorokobu, meaning to be glad or happy about; and kazunoko
(prepared herring roe) is for the hope of having many children. Osechi cuisine is packed
in three or four-tiered lacquer boxes called jubako. Here's what goes in where.
Ichi-no-ju (top tier) Kuromame (black beans), a symbol of health, are boiled in syrup. Kazunoko, with
its myriad of tiny eggs, is a symbol of procreation. It is usually seasoned with soy
sauce. Tazukuri symbolizes a good harvest, and consists of tsukudani
made with small sardines. Kurikinton is kuri (sweet chestnuts) and
mashed satsumaimo (sweet potato) boiled in a sweet sauce. Terigomame are
baby sardines simmered in sugar and soy sauce till sticky while datemaki is a
sweet cake-like egg that symbolizes knowledge.
Ni-no-ju (second tier)
Most items in this second box are seafood tidbits to be snacked on while imbibing hot
sake. Namasu is a salad of shredded daikon (Japanese radish) and carrot
seasoned in vinegar. Also included are: vinegar-seasoned octopus, vinegar and lemon juice
marinade of squid, cucumber, grilled shrimp, and Japanese turnip. Marinated pond smelt is
San-no-ju (third tier)
The third box holds mostly vegetables and roots. Most vegetables in this box are seasoned
with sugar, stock and soy sauce and pair well with rice. Broiled taro, twisted konnyaku
and other root vegetables are common.
Yo-no-ju (fourth tier) Nishime (simmered root vegetables) is comprised of artistically arranged
vegetables such as carrot, gobo (burdock root), renkon (lotus root), yatsugashira