Happy 2020! In Asian culture, this is the year of the rat. I thought it would be fun to share with you the Japanese New Year tradition of my family that we call Oshogatsu (or Shogatsu).
You may or may not know that I am a Japanese mother. For as long as I can remember, we celebrated New Year’s Day every year with the family reunion, a huge all-day Japanese festival and lots and lots of sake. This is a very special day for us and we are all really looking forward to January 1st.
In addition to all the fantastic food, it is also a tradition that on New Year’s Day everyone drinks a glass of sake and toasts the New Year for good luck. We would raise our glass and scream ”Kampai”(Which means applause). When I was young, I would say I was three or four years old, I also had to have a glass of sake. Admittedly, the reason that the younger children drank (called o-toso) was mixed with a spicy / sugary sweetener and contained less sake. I remember I really liked that o-toso, but after we got a little older we had to drink the normal sake and I absolutely hated it! I would hold my nose and hurry to get it down. Of course, now … I like to drink hot sake and I can’t imagine a New Year’s Day without it!
I did New Year’s Day Oshogatsu Tradition since I got married in 1987, so … about 32 years! At the beginning I changed the years with my mother to give her a break from all the preparation. I found it even more important when we started having children because I wanted them to love and appreciate their Japanese heritage.
The children received an envelope on New Year’s Day that was filled with money. This is called “Otoshidama“. I remember how excited I was as a child to see the envelope in my place! I found these beautiful envelopes in the Japanese dollar store. This is a little fancier than the traditional envelope (probably used for wedding gifts), but I liked it and spent it on the New Year gift.
Since I am currently preparing for this year OshogatsuI started collecting some of the dishes that I will use at our table. There is literally a dish for everything. The reason why Japanese dishes are so small is that you can pick them up and keep them close to your mouth to keep the clutter to a minimum.
Because the dishes are so small and sometimes very delicate, many have to be washed by hand. Fortunately, the rule in our house is that everyone who does not participate in the cooking and preparation of the feast must wash all the dishes by hand. I will say that I notice that I get much more help in the kitchen than I used to!
Many of my mother’s traditional recipes were in ours Oshogatsu with a few variations. Now that my children are grown up, it is nice that they too like to bring in new ideas and dishes that are incorporated into our celebration.
The main event in our festival has always been the family’s three favorite sashimi varieties: squid (Ika), Tuna (Maguro) and octopus (Tako). Sometimes the Japanese market doesn’t Maguro (Bluetail tuna) and we get it Toro (Yellowtail tuna), which is just as delicious!
I would use many of my mother’s traditional dishes that are symbolic to all of us. Here are some of the dishes:
Namasu – One of my favorite dishes on New Year’s Day is Namasu or Onamasu that’s daikon (radish) and carrots julienned in a sweet Japanese vinegar sauce. Namasu represents happiness. I also recently learned that the white radish stands for purity and that the “red” (carrot) ward off evil spirits. We joked with everyone who was grumpy that they had to eat extra Namasu so look forward to the new year.
The photo above is one of my husband’s favorite dishes (on the photo above). Kimpira Gobo – gobo is burdock root. This is julied and fried with pepper flakes, dashi (bonito fish flakes) and soy sauce. We make it extra hot because it complements sake very nicely. Gobo stands for long life, strength and stability. Below is this photo Renkon – Renkon is the lotus trunk and stands for luck. My mother served it in a soy sauce broth with Japanese mountain yam (Nagaimo) and onions. I couldn’t find this recipe anywhere, so I assume that this was her own creation. I like to cook it similar to how I do it gobo, It has a crispy texture and a mild potato-like taste.
kamaboko – kamaboko is a fish cake. This comes in a variety of styles and colors, but we eat the traditional crescent shape, which is pink on the edge. We also eat those that have a pink spiral in the middle. kamaboko in the crescent shape symbolizes the rising sun. The “red” (pink border) means celebration and the white center stands for holiness. (Sorry the photo is a little blurry).
After my mother passed away in 2017, I started installing the Red Snapper. I remember when I lived in Japan we ate this on New Year’s Day and I wanted to make this a new part of our tradition. This year I got this 4 pounder on the Japanese market and it is absolutely beautiful!
Red snapper (Tai) – The Red Snapper stands for Good Luck for the coming new year and is traditionally grilled and served as a whole in the middle of the table.
Of course we also had a lot of hot and cold sake! We traditionally buy and drink this. We also had fresh mochi, yokan (red bean jelly) and a variety of snacks and rice crackers for sake!
This year my eldest son, Michael, traveled to Japan and brought each of us a yukata (they are a light summer kimono) from Tokyo – so it was great fun that we ALL had one !!
I hope you enjoyed learning about our Japanese New Year tradition. Don’t forget to follow me here, Instagram and YouTube. Would love to hear your thoughts! Leave me a comment below.
From my family to your … Akemashite Omedeto Gozaimasu!! … Happy New Year everyone!!
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