A New Year’s Feast OSECHI for the Whole Family
In Japan, the New Year is a special time for gathering together the whole family, akin to Christmas in the west.
The whole house is cleaned up as the end of the year approaches, and a big meal is prepared for the family to enjoy as they greet the New Year.
A wide variety of food usually features, but most special dishes among them are OSECHI, a traditional New Year’s cooking.
A colorful array of foods, made to wish for health and wealth in the New Year are arranged in special square nested boxes called jūbako. Japan’s culture of boxed lunches, or bento, has become more widely known abroad in recent years, but osechi are a special sort of New Year bento: both the boxes and their contents are extravagant.
Osechi is intended to be eaten gradually and enjoyed bit by bit over sake, and so the dishes are made to keep, with robust flavoring.
In our modern day and age with its improved food preservation by refrigeration and more varied diets, western and Chinese dishes have gained more popularity alongside the traditional osechi.
As women’s participation in broader society has advanced, the amount of osechi being prepared by housewives has gone down, but they’ve become very popular products at places like department stores. Prices start at around 65$ and run to more than 250$ for popular high-price products that use top-quality ingredients. Pre-orders open months in advance and the more popular items are guaranteed to sell out quickly.
In the past, it seems that traditional osechi, which kept so well, were one way to free housewives from their chores during the New Year season, so it’s a similarly good idea for us modern folk and our perpetually busy schedules to splurge on a little relaxation and luxury by buying good quality osechi for the holidays.
Next, let’s take a look at the meanings behind some of the traditional osechi dishes.