Japan Week #16 New Years in Japan
January 3rd, 2013
Apologies for the out of order Japan posts (I have some earlier posts still in draft mode) but I’m fresh out of new years and have this post ready to go.
Anyways this new years I went to my SO’s family to celebrate new years which in Japan is the major important holiday. Compared to North America where Christmas is the major family vacation Christmas in Japan is not celebrated in the same way. It’s mostly a couples dating holiday and in my case it was a regular working day. My vacation period runs across the new years week.
My SO is from Hiroshima so that’s where we went to visit her family. One of the first sights we went to see was the Hiroshima memorial site. The city chose to preserve the memorial site in a vote. Here are some photos of the site.
It was brutally cold though. Despite that we continued on to Hiroshima cities famed light show along the main downtown arcade. The city works on a very intricate light show which is actually solar powered! They gather the energy from the sun then use it to power the lights!
Finally we returned home for the night to start the New Years where the new years meal is prepared. For this specific occasion I was introduced into the preparation of Onigiri. Onigiri is a triangular rice ball which is typically covered in a patch of seaweed called nori.
Here is an example of Onigiri. Some of these are terrible (the ones I made) and some are good (not the ones I made). The main idea is that you take a ball of rice, flatten it, then put some filling in the center, finally you wrap the rice over the filling and perform a difficult (for me at least) repeated rolling and wrapping technique to create the Onigiri triangle.
After that was done we moved on the to the osechi box which is traditional in Japanese culture. As it has been explained to me in the past the matriarch or the household would prepare food for one or two days non stop but the food that was prepared was food that was able to be preserved for days at a time. The concept was that the food would be prepared in advance so that the matriarch as well as the rest of the family would not have to work for days after. The family would go through each tray of food one by one with enough food to last for days if not weeks.
This is how it was explained to me by local people if I am incorrect in my information please let me know in the comments.
These days it’s also very popular to buy the osechi from a company that prepares them in advance. The average price i’ve seen when I cheeked was between 200-400$ american currency.
Our dinner was a combination of the two forms. My SO’s mother was very generous in providing both homecooked and osechi meals.
One other thing to note is that the osechi food all have a form of symbolism. I’m not adept at identifying these symbols but I can identify a few. The shirmp/prawn represents the will to live until the point your back arches like that of a shrimp. The first picture in the following set has a photo of a lotus root which you can imagine why you can use it as a lens to see your future. The photo is towards the lower right of the photo.
Finally after the huge meal the tradition is to have a soba noodle dish. Here is the photo of the dish. In my case I love heat in my food. I added a lot of ichi-mi (japanese hot spice) to my bowl. Possibly too much.
New years day included even more food. I’m a lucky man. This time we visited the entire family and had a huge meal. Here is a sampling of the food. First up is sushi which many people in north america might consider to be the rolled fish/rice/nori food it’s actually rice with vinigar. The sushi we are used to in North America is sushi maki (rolled sushi).
My SO’s father is an accomplished fisherman and caught the sashimi that we enjoyed for our new years day meal. The sashimi fish was hage.
Here’s some more dishes from the new years day celebration.
After the meal we had an afternoon of relaxation. In the case of my SO’s older family it meant Japanese Mah-Jong. I’ve been trying to learn the game but I’m not good enough to join. Just to take a photograph.
Finally we finished the whole deal by ringing the bell at a local shrine and receiving our fortune for the next year. Here is the bell we rang. As for the fortune you will just have to be in the dark on that one.
Was certainly a fun new year celebration!