3 Japanese New Year Food and Drink

Japanese New Year is on the 1st of January. On this special day, Japanese people enjoy special food and drink. Here are 3 important Japanese New Year food and drink and the meanings behind them.

Osechi おせち

Osechi is the most common and must-eat Japanese new year food. In olden time, Osechi was eaten in appreciation of the blessings by cooking the harvest that is offered on the day of the festival, wishing for a big catch or good harvest in the coming time. The food offered to God to celebrate these festivals was called Osechi.

Originally, it wasn’t a dish that was eaten only during the new year, but as new year is the most important milestone in a year, it became an important dish for new year. Osechi consists of many dishes and they are usually put inside the container. Originally, five-tiered container was used for Japanese New Year. However, nowadays, osechi is usually fit in a one-tiered box, two-tiered or three-tiered ones.

First TrayCelebration appetizers
Second TrayGrilled dishes
Third TrayBoiled or simmered dishes
Forth TrayVinegared or other Japanese dishes
Fifth TrayEmpty
The dishes put in each tray in a five-tiered container

First Tray

Celebration Appetizers:

The three main appetizers and Kazunoko, Tazukuri and black beans.

Kazunoko 数の子

Kazunoko means herring roe. Kazunoko is a dish that symbolizes “prosperity of descendants” due to the large number of fish eggs.


Tazukuri 田作り

Tazukuri is dried anchovy roasted and then cooked in sweet and spicy sauce. Small fish were used as fertilizer in the fields, by eating this dish people wish for a good harvest and production.

Kuromame 黒豆 

Kuromame means black beans. The black beans are cooked with sugar and soy sauce.
Beans carry the meaning of “earnest” due to the pronunciation (mame=beans; majime=earnest). For example, working seriously, and living earnestly.

Tatakigobou たたきごぼう

Tataki means tap and gobou means burdock. The burdock is tapped lightly before cooked. Burdock is an ingredient that carries the meaning of “straightening the roots” because it has long roots in the ground.


Assorted Side Dish 口取り:

kamaboko かまぼこ

Kamaboko is a processed fish cake that is in the colours of pink(red) and white. It is a food that resembles sunrise because of its shape. The colour of red means good luck and white means clean.

Datemaki 伊達巻

Datemaki is a sweet rolled omelette. Its texture is similar to castella but it contains minced fish. Its appearance looks like a book and by eating this dish people wish for cultural development and academic achievement.

Kirikinton 栗きんとん

Kirikinton is a sweet chestnut paste. The kanji of ‘kinton’ (金団) means treasures that shine in gold. As the name implies, it wishes for a “rich year” with the image.

Kintamako 錦玉子

Kintamako is a dish which boiled egg yolks and whites are separated, seasoned and strained, and steamed in a mold. The two colours of yolk and white resemble gold and silver, which represent a rich year.

Konbumaki 昆布巻き

Konbu means kelp and maki means rolled. It is a dish of fish meat wrapped in kelp and simmered in soy sauce and mirin.
The pronunciation of Konbu is silimar to Kobu(子生) which means descendants, and yorokobu (養老昆布) which means longevity.


Second Tray

Grilled Dishes:

Yellow Tail ぶり

In Japan, fish with different length has different names. Buri (ぶり) is a fish that is above 90cm. It is also called syusseou (出世魚) which literally means successful fish. By eating this dish, people pray for success in their life.

Seabream 鯛

Sea bream is an essential fish for Japanese celebrations. Seabream is called Tai in Japanese. It is included as a representative celebration fish because of the similarity of pronunciation with the Japanese word “Medetai” which is an adjective means happy (news, event). It is also a fish hold by the Ebisu (恵比寿), who is the Seven Lucks God (七福神).


Third Tray

Boiled Dishes:

Lotus Root 蓮根

The lotus root hole can be looked through, which means one can see the future and have a bright outlook.

Lotus Root
Taro 里芋

Most taro are connected with some tiny taros. It is a food that can pass down prosperity of the descendants as the tiny ones are connected with the taro’s body.

Arrow Head くわい

During the arrow head’s growing process, the buds come out first, it symbolizes success. Arrow head itself has a potato-like color, but when it is cooked, it became yellow that looks like gold. It symbolizes financial abundance.

Arrow Head
Shrimp 海老

Ebi (海老) means the elderly of the sea(海の老人). Shrimp bends when it’s cooked, it carries the meaning ‘let’s live long and strong till the waist bends’


Forth Tray

Vinegared or other Japanese Dishes

Pickled Sea Cucumber なまこの酢漬け

The sea cucumber is sliced ​​thinly, boiled and pickled. Sea cucumber resembles the shape of a bale which symbolizes a good harvest.

Pickled Sea Cucumber

Red and White : Carrots and Radishes

Vinegared Lotus Root 酢蓮根

The lotus root is boiled and put in sweet vinegar.
The lotus root hole can be looked through, which means one can see the future and have a bright outlook.

Vinegared Lotus Root
Chrysanthemum Turnips 菊花蕪

Turnip is carved into chrysanthemum soaked in vinegar. Chrysanthemums are treated as a lucky charm to dispel evil spirits and wish for longevity.

Fifth Tray

The fifth tray is empty. It is treated as a space to reserve as the current state is not the best, to empty it and hoping that there is still room for wealth to increase in the future.

Ozouni お雑煮

Japanese New Year’s rice cake (Kagami mochi) is another festive item said to contain the spirit of the gods. Ozouni is a dish to cook the hply mochi. Whoever eats it, there will be vitality given to him/her.

Ozoni is famous for reflecting the food culture of each region in Japan. Ingredients and tastes vary from place to place throughout the country.

Kansai-style uses round mochi (not toasted),
cooked in white miso soup
Kantou-style uses rectangle mochi (toasted),
cooked in soy sauce-based soup

Fukucha 福茶

Fukucha is a tea made by adding dried plums, salted kelp, beans (black beans and soybeans), and Japanese pepper to hot water, and it is customary to drink it during Japanese New Year and せつぶん (Bean Throwing Festival)

It is said that it originated in Heian period where people put dried plums in tea and it healed many people’s illnesses.


Photo Credit

Lotus root
Pickled Sea Cucumber

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