Japanese New Year and food.

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Japanese New Year and food.

Postby Bob Ross » Fri Dec 29, 2006 8:46 pm

Martin Herbach, a regular on the New York Times Crossword site, created a fascinating description of this holiday, and the foods related to it. (Martin is an extraordinary personality, and is married to a Japanese woman.) As you my have guessed, he is Jewish, which adds yet another layer of complexity to his views of Japanese society:

"New Year is a major holiday in Japan. Celebrated January 1-3 (the Japanese don’t use the Chinese lunar calendar), its essence is similar to that of our Thanksgiving. The three-day celebration is peppered with ancient rituals, superstitions and traditions that aim to insure a successful year ahead, and are layered in ways that point clearly to a thousand years with no way off the island. In fact, a cross between Thanksgiving and Yom Kippur may be an even more apt, if inscrutable, analog."

Here is Martin's description of his piece:

I imagine somewhere in Japan just about anything edible is celebratory. Here is a dossier on some of the dishes that most Japanese associate with New Years. I prepared it as a cheat sheet for a past gathering in California.


In Seattle I prepare at least thirty dishes for about 100 family and friends. Most of them are Japanese so I can't get away with anything.

In case you don't have Microsoft Word, you may find this pdf file easier to read:


I found this fascinating reading, an insight to Japanese culture that taught me a great deal.

Regards, Bob
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Re: Japanese New Year and food.

Postby Jenise » Sun Dec 31, 2006 3:34 pm

Interesting stuff, Bob! I especially liked the description of the black bean dish:

A uniquely Japanese clone of the soybean, we eat kuromame as osechi because mame also means “health.” Not eating at least one bean is asking for trouble.

This humble black bean is the hardest osechi dish to prepare properly. The beans must be black, plump and unbroken or your guests will be insulted. Kuromame normally turn pink when cooked, so kitchen chemistry is important. To suppress the color change, the pH must be high (we use baking soda) and the ferric ion must be present (the beans must be simmered with rusty nails!). We had a minor crisis this week when it was discovered that Elaine had tossed my kuromame nails, thinking they were, well, rusty nails. But I did manage to secure and sterilize a new set.
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Re: Japanese New Year and food.

Postby Dale Williams » Sun Dec 31, 2006 8:18 pm

We sometimes go to our friend Yoshi's for New Years. It's an amazing spread (especially if he has Japanese clients coming!). Thanks for explanations.
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