New Years Day is the biggest holiday of the year for the Japanese. This year, we had our friends Yumi and her sister, Kazue, come to our home and cook a traditional New Year’s dinner for us a few friends, complete with a lesson on the cultural origins/symbolism behind each dish. What a treat! Thank you Yumi!
Due to the lack of calcium in a typical Japanese diet, it is very common to see elderly Japanese with obvious symptoms of osteoporosis, especially a curved back. In Japan, this is seen as a sign of a well-lived, long life. So, the Japanese eat shrimp, with its curved shape, to symbolize this honored attribute.
Beans are known as the hard- worker’s food! No wonder…the Japanese are the hardest workers I’ve ever seen….and they eat a LOT of beans.
University Sweet Potatoes
Legend has it that a man started selling these cubed, candied sweet potatoes to students outside Tokyo University (a very distinguished university in Japan). Over time, rumor spread that these potatoes helped students pass their grueling exams. As a result, parents started sending these potatoes to their children when they had an upcoming exam and still do so today.
I’m not sure what this soup symbolized, but it was delicious! Chicken, vegetables, mochi ball (rice pastry), in a yummy broth.
(You may notice a little American influence in this next picture...what would New Years be without Fritos, Crunch N Munch and Sparkling Cider??? And those symbolize....)
To me, one of the most impressive things about Japan is that entire country's population is able to squeeze themselves into roughly one fourth of the country's land, and leave the rest, well, to nature. And this is done in a country roughly the size of California, but with more than FOUR times the number of people! Their reverence for nature is inspiring. According to Yumi, this love for nature is what inspires their traditional New Year's Day meal. Foods from each part of nature are to be represented on the table: fish and seaweed from the sea, lotus and other root vegetables from the ground, and roasted chestnuts from the forests.
Akimashte Omedeto Gozyimas! Happy New Year!