8 December 2010 / January 2011 nagazasshi
hat Japanese people love holiday
celebrations and festivals is a
well-known fa...
nagazasshi December 2010 / January 2011 9
New Year goodies packed into nifty three
or five-tiered lacquer boxes (jūbako).
of 2

Nagazasshi_Vol_3.2 (dragged)

Published on: Mar 3, 2016

Transcripts - Nagazasshi_Vol_3.2 (dragged)

  • 1. 8 December 2010 / January 2011 nagazasshi T hat Japanese people love holiday celebrations and festivals is a well-known fact. It is said that you can always find some sort of celebra- tion going on somewhere in Japan. None, however, is as important as New Year’s Day (oshōgatsu). It is the celebra- tion of the arrival of another year, just as it is in many other cultures. However, New Year celebrations in Japan are not the one–day, food-gorging, alcohol- binging party event that many of us are familiar with. Instead, it’s a month-long process, beginning as early as mid- December and ending as late as January 11th. Susuharai The Japanese believe that at the time of the New Year, a god visits each house- hold and provides for an abundant harvest in the coming year. In prepara- tion for the god’s arrival, the house is purified by thorough cleaning (susuharai) and sanctified by decorations of pine branches, bamboo and straw ropes. Until the Taisho Period, December 13th was recognized as a day to perform susuharai. Today, the cleaning is not as extensive as it was in the past and many house- holds begin cleaning on New Year’s Eve instead. Kagami mochi In addition to the purification of the house, food is prepared and displayed to welcome the god. Mirror rice cakes (kagamimochi) are arranged one on top of another, each smaller than the one below it. The name stems from the religious significance of mirrors in Shinto – gods are thought to reside within them. Since the god of the New Year is also known as the god of grain, rice cakes are especially appropriate offerings and serve as a re- minder that the god is present through- out the celebration. Osechiryori If rice cake is too bland for you, worry not. The culinary highlight of the New Year celebration is osechiryōri; special New Year the Japanese way Photo: Masayoshi Sekimura
  • 2. nagazasshi December 2010 / January 2011 9 New Year goodies packed into nifty three or five-tiered lacquer boxes (jūbako). Osechiryōri was originally a way for Japanese families to survive the first several days of the New Year, when stores throughout Japan were closed. It can be imagined that the amount of food sitting in the tiered boxes must be formidable. However, osechiryōri is more than just a sumptuous three-day feast. Each dish and ingredient carries a special symbolic significance. For example, her- ring roe is eaten in the hope of having many children, as represented by the great number of small fish eggs. Black beans are included because black has tra- ditionally been considered to be a charm to ward off demons. Yellow chestnuts are associated with gold and therefore represent wealth. Matsunouchi & hatsumode With all the hard work done, there is nothing to do but relax and enjoy the next eleven days. The first seven days of the New Year’s holiday proper is referred to as matsunouchi. “Matsu” means pine tree, and it refers to the decorations of pine and bamboo that are removed on January 7th. This period is the time for hatsumōde, the first visit of the year to a temple or shrine to pray for good luck during the coming year. It is common to see men and women clad in their best kimono. Many people prefer to make this visit on the midnight of New Year’s Eve when masses converge on famous shrines and temples. Meiji Jingu (one of the most famous shrines in Japan) attracts an average of 3.5 million people for hatsumōde during the first three days. The crowds may be overwhelming, but the experience of jostling amongst men and women clad in vibrant kimono in the winter cold and listening to bells chime at midnight could be one of your best Japanese cultural experiences ever. Nanakusagayu On the seventh and last day of New Year’s holiday proper, the stomach is finally given a rest from all the festive feasting. On the morning of January 7th, also known as Seven Herb Festi- val (nanakusa no sekku), a rice porridge (nanakusagayu) containing seven kinds of herbs thought to be especially benefi- cial to health is eaten with prayers for good health. Kagamibiraki But wait, the celebrations are not yet over. There is one last thing to do… well, one last kind of food to eat, to be exact. On January 11th, the mirror rice cakes used in the New Year’s celebrations (surely you don’t think that they are solely for display purposes!) are put into a soup called zoni or made into shiruko – sweetened azuki bean soup with roasted rice cakes. It is taboo to cut the rice cakes since they were first offered to the god of the New Year, so they are broken instead. This occasion is called kagamibi- raki and it marks the formal end of the New Year season. What are you doing this New Year’s Day? Why not take a break from your usual celebration style and experience a Japanese New Year instead? I hope you can stomach it! nn

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