Japanese New Year Traditions (Part 2)

In many places FOOD is huge part of the end of the year/New Year celebrations and Japan is no different. Though you won’t see folks buying turkeys to fry (or bake) and making all the fixings you will see certain food items in place around the house with the other traditional New Year decorations.

Kagami mochi

In addition to seeing Kagami mochi in houses near the end of the year you’ll notice a trend in all of your grocery stores…empty shelves.

The reason for this is that the New Year’s day meal, Osechi Ryori (御節料理) is a BIG DEAL (said in my Gru voice). I mean it’s Grandma cooking Christmas dinner big. Not only does the meal hold special significance for the Japanese people as a whole, but the different food items have individual meanings and/or significance as well.

  • ”Kuro-mame.” Sweetened black soy beans = hard work and good health.
  • ”Datemaki” a rolled up sweet egg omelet = wish for education and culture.
  • “Gobou” (burdock root) = health and good harvest for the coming year.
  • “Kazunoko” is herring roe = Kazunoko is a lot of roe, so it means “descendants prosperity”.
  • “Kamaboko” is a fish paste. These are half-moon shaped = represents sunrise.
  • “Ko-Haku kamaboko” has two colors, red and white = Red means “joy” and White means “holly”.

While many families will make the meal themselves (cue late night run for forgotten items) there is also the option to purchase these special bento 🍱 boxes, called jūbako (重箱) from your local grocery stores and combinis. The prices can range from average to SUPER expensive!!

Before we can ring in the New Year and enjoy our jūbako there’s one more meal typically enjoyed in Japanese households at the end of the year, soba!!


At some point on New Year’s eve the MAJORITY of Japanese households will gather together and eat soba! Because it’s being eaten on New Year’s Eve, it’s called “Toshikoshi soba” (年越しそば) which translates to “climbing over to the New Year-soba.” The long buckwheat noodles represent longevity and it is eaten at the end the year, hoping for a healthy & long life in the upcoming year.

Have you or will you be making osechi ryori? Have you purchased yours for the New Year celebration? Will you enjoy soba to usher out the current year? Tell us in the comments!!

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