Celebrating Shogatsu? 12 Authentic Japanese New Year Foods

The traditional New Year's food in Japan is called "osechi-ryori," and it consists of numerous little dishes based on region and history. Here is a list of some common and not-so-common foods found in osechi-ryori.

A traditional local New Year’s food known as osechi-ryori is commonly consumed on New Year's Day (which is referred to in Japanese as "Ganjitsu"). Osechi-ryori, or often called just “osechi,” is a food that consists of various colourful dishes. To see more examples of food eaten during the New Year celebration in Japan, see 8 Kinds of Food Served During the Japanese New Year. As the New Year symbolizes a new beginning, osechi-ryori consists of food with auspicious meanings. The dishes are stored in a three or four-tiered container called "Jubako." On Ganjitsu, people are not supposed to work, including the housewives. Hence, osechi is prepared in advance for Ganjitsu.

The tradition of eating osechi can be traced back to the Heian Period (794 to 1185). In early days, it was believed that no one should use a hearth nor cook a meal (exception was given to zoni, a typical soup for the New Year) on the first three days of the year. Hence, osechi conists of preserved dishes which usually can be kept at room temperature for a few days.

Over the years, the popularity of osechi in Japan has been dropping. Not only do the dishes take a lot of effort to prepare, but many people see the preserved dishes as unhealthy. Nowadays, you could get osechi in supermarkets easily and the cost of osechi is also high due to the complexity of the food, another reason for its declining popularity.

For those who are visiting Japan this coming New Year, you might want to try this traditional New Year’s food, even though it is losing its popularity it is still good to taste a traditional meal.

1. Kuromame

Kuromame are sweetened black beans that usually symbolize good health.

2. Kamaboko

Kamaboko are to boiled fish cakes that come in pink and white colours.

3. Kazunoko

Usually seasoned with light soy souce, Kazunoko is herring roe. It symbolizes fertility due to the amount of eggs it has.

4. Kurikinton

Kurikonton consists of boiled mashed sweet potatoes (satsumaimo) and sweet chestnuts (kuri).

The characters for kinton literally mean “group of gold”, so with the golden color of this sweet, it represents a wish for wealth and financial success in the New Year.

5. Nishime

Nishime consists of mix boiled vegetables which are usually beautifully arranged. Some of the vegetables include burdock root (gobo), carrot, lotus root (renkon) and taro (yatsugashira).

6. Kabu-no-sunomono

This is a whole baby turnip cut to look like a chrysanthemum flower that’s then pickled in vinegar, salt and sugar with some chili pepper in the middle. The chrysanthemum is the symbol of the emperor and is used to mark joyous occasions.

7. Ebi

Ebi means prawn. It is usually cooked together with sake and soy sauce. Sometimes instead of ebi, lobster is used. Ebi symbolizes a long life - that you will live until your beard grows long and your waist bends.

8. Toriniku-no-teriyaki

Toriniku-no-teriyaki means grilled chicken with sweet soy sauce. Although this is not a common dish found in Osechi-ryori, you might find it sometimes.

9. Tai

Tai is refers to red sea-bream in Japanese. The word “tai” is often related to “medetai” (meaning auspicious in English).

10. Ika

Ika means squid in Japanese. This is another uncommon dish served in osechi-ryori.

11. Nama-fu

Nama-fu means wheat gluten. The mixture of glutinous rice flour and millet is steamed and shaped in desired patterns and colours.

12. Tazukuri

Baby dried anchovies are roasted and coated with sweet caramelized soy sauce and sesame seeds. Tazukuri, which literally translates to “making rice fields” symbolizes a bountiful harvest.

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