Osechi Ryori(おせち料理): Japanese New year foods

Osechoi ryori is the special food prepared n advance to welcome the New year. Japanese households make various kinds of foods in advance for New year night. Osechi ryori is a set of food items each with special meaning.

Photo by Shinya Suzuki on Flickr

These food items are arranged in special lunch boxes called Ojubako. Two or three-layered lunch boxes hold food for entire family members. This food and box are considered as the symbols of wealth and happiness. Family members share food from this box on New year night. Every time in Osechi ryori has its own meaning too.

  1. Kuromameー黒豆(black beans): These are boiled black beans in sugar syrup and soy sauce. ‘Mame’, the Japanese name for ‘beans’ resembles the word for health and hard work.
  2. Kamabokoー蒲鉾(fish cakes): These are fish cakes usually available in pink, blue and white colours. The pink and white fish cakes in Osechi Ryori represents the sunrays.  It is served with the wish to prevent evils and fill purity.
  3. Tatzukuriー田作(baby sardines): These are symbols of a good harvest as it literally means like Ta(paddy field), tsukuri(to make). Sardines were used as manures for good harvest in paddy fields in ancient Japan.

    Photo by Yasuki Ichishima on Flickr
  4. Renkonーレンコン (lotus root): Lotus roots with holes in it is added to the Osechi Ryori with a special meaning. As we can see the other side through the holes of a lotus root, the Renkon adds the meaning that we can foresee the future through it.

    Renkon-Photo by Kazuh on Flickr
  5. Kohaku namasuー琥珀なます(white and red): This is a pickled dish of radish and carrot. The thin strands of red and white colour provide a festive appearance and symbolise good fortune.

    Photo by Kazuh on Flickr
  6. Kobu makiー昆布巻き(Kelp wrapping): Kobu or Kombu is Kelp, a kind of seaweed. Kobumaki is a boiled recipe which is made by wrapping fish inside seaweed sheets. The word ‘Kobu’ has a literal meaning of happiness as it sounds same as the last part of the word ‘Yorokobu’ which means ‘happiness’.

    Kobumaki- Photo by Junpei Abe on Flickr
  7. Ozoniーお雑煮(Rice-cake Soup): It is a kind of soup with mochi the main ingredient. It is one of the highlight recipes of Japanese new year. The ingredients and hence the taste differs in various regions.

    Ozoni – Photo by Yasuki Ichishima on Flickr
  8. Kazunoko(herring roe):  With the literal meaning it sounds like ‘a number of children’, Kazu(number) and ko(child), these clustered tiny fish eggs are eaten with a wish for good harvest and fertility in the coming year.

    Kazunoko
  9. Datemakiー伊達巻(rolled omelette): These are rolled sweet egg omelettes mixed with fish cake. These rollings of egg omelettes resemble the ancient practice of rolling documents, writing etc. So this food item means ‘better education/certification’ etc.
  10. Kurikinton(栗きんとん): Kurikinton is sweet dumpling made of chestnuts and mashed sweet potato. As it is golden in colour, this sweet dish is served with a wish of acquiring ‘wealth’.
  11. Ebiーエビ(Shrimp): Shrimps with a bent back and two antennas represent an old man, which is added with a wish to ‘longevity’. Also, the red colour of the shrimp adds colour and meaning of ‘evil removal’.
  12. Kabuーカブ(turnip): Turnip is served in the shape of Kiku(chrysanthemum). The chrysanthemum flowers are believed to remove the evils mad is often associated with the celebrations.
  13. Goboーゴボウ(burdock root): It is boiled and served seasoned with sesame and vinegar. Like these root which grows deep into the soil, this food is eaten with a wish of strength and stability.
  14. Yakisakanaー焼き魚(Grilled fish): Grilled fish is served with Osechi Ryori. Usually, Tai(Sea bream) is the used for this purpose. It is the fish of celebration in Japan as its name sounds like the word ‘medetai'(目出度い) which means to celebrate.
  15. Daidai-代々(bitter orange)- As the word ‘daidai’ means ‘from generation to generation’, the small Japanese bitter orange is served with Osechi with the wish to produce new generations.

Even though there is a traditional way of arranging various Osechi dishes in an Ojubako, the number and arrangement of Osechi dishes vary in each family, especially among the current generation. We can find Osechi lunch boxes and dishes in supermarkets and convenience stores during the New year times.