Happy 2020! In the Asian culture, this is the Year of the Rat. I thought it would be fun this New Year, to share with you my family’s Japanese New Year’s Day tradition which we call Oshogatsu (or Shogatsu).
You may or may not know, I am Japanese from my mother’s side. Every year, for as long as I can remember, we have celebrated New Year’s Day with the family gathering, an all-day enormous Japanese feast and lots, and lots, of sake. This is a very special day for us and we all eagerly look forward to January 1.
Besides all of the fabulous food, it is also a tradition on New Year’s Day for everyone to drink a glass of sake and toast the New Year for Good Luck. We would raise our glass and shout “Kampai” (which means cheers). From a very young age, I want to say I was three or four, I was also required to have ONE glass of sake. Granted, the sake that the younger children drank (called o-toso) was mixed with a spicy/sugary sweetener and contained less sake. I do remember actually liking the o-toso, but after we got a little older, we had to drink the regular sake and I absolutely hated it! I would hold my nose and hurry to get it down. Of course, now … I love drinking hot sake and I can’t imagine a New Year’s Day without it!
I have been carrying out the New Year’s Day Oshogatsu tradition since I got married in 1987, so … about 32 years! In the beginning, I would alternate years with my mother to give her a break from all the preparation. I felt it was even more important as 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 as a child, how excited I would get to see the envelope at my seat! I found these beautiful envelopes at the Japanese dollar store. This is a little fancier than the traditional envelope (more than likely these are used for wedding gifts), but I liked them and gave them out for their New Year’s gift.
As I am getting ready for this year’s Oshogatsu, I have started gathering some of the dishes that I will be using at our table setting. There literally is a dish for everything. The reason Japanese dishes are so small is so you can pick them up and put them close to your mouth – keeping the mess to a minimum.
Being that the dishes are so small, and sometimes very delicate, a lot of them have to be hand washed. Thankfully, the rule in our house is that whoever doesn’t participate in the cooking and preparation of the feast, has to hand wash all the dishes. I will say that I am noticing that I am getting a lot more help around the kitchen than I used to!
Many of my mother’s traditional recipes have been carried out in our Oshogatsu with a few variations. With my children now grown, it is nice that they, too, like to bring in new ideas and dishes to incorporate into our celebration.
The main event in our feast has always been the family’s three favorite types of sashimi: squid (Ika), tuna (Maguro) and octopus (Tako). Sometimes the Japanese market doesn’t have the Maguro (bluetail tuna) and we get the Toro (yellowtail tuna) which is just as delicious!
I would incorporate many of my mother’s traditional dishes that have symbolic meanings for us to all appreciate. Here are a few of the dishes:
Namasu – One of my favorite New Year’s Day dishes is Namasu or Onamasu which is Daikon (radish) and carrots julienned in a sweet Japanese vinegar sauce. Namasu represents Happiness. I also recently learned that the white radish represents purity and the “red” (carrots) wards off evil spirits. We used to joke to anyone who is grumpy that they needed to eat extra Namasu so they will be happy for the New Year.
In the above photo is one of my husband’s favorite dish (at the top of the photo) Kimpira Gobo – Gobo is burdock root. This is julienned and fried with pepper flakes, Dashi (bonito fish flakes) and soy sauce. We make it extra hot as it complements sake very nicely. Gobo represents Long Life, Strength and Stability. At the bottom of this photo is Renkon – Renkon is the lotus stem and it represents Good Fortune. My mother served it in a soy sauce broth with Japanese mountain yam (Nagaimo) and onions. I have not been able to find this recipe anywhere so I will assume this was her own creation. I like to cook it similarly as I do the Gobo. It has a crunchy texture and a mild potato-like flavor.
Kamaboko – Kamaboko is a fish cake. This comes in a variety of styles and colors, but we eat the traditional half-moon shaped that is pink on the edge. We also eat those that have a pink spiral in the center. Kamaboko in the half-moon shape symbolizes the Rising Sun. The “red” (pink edge) signifies Celebration and the white center represents Sacredness. (Sorry the photo is a little blurry).
After my mother passed away in 2017, I started incorporating the red snapper. I remember when I lived in Japan, we would eat this on New Year’s Day so I wanted to make this a new part of our tradition. This year I got this 4-pounder at the Japanese market and it is absolutely beautiful!
Red Snapper (Tai) – The red snapper represents Good Luck for the coming new year and it is traditionally served grilled and whole in the center of the table for everyone to pick at.
Of course we had lots of hot and cold sake too! These are what we traditionally buy and drink. We also had fresh mochi, yokan (red bean jelly) and a variety of snacks and rice crackers to accompany the sake too!
This year my oldest son, Michael, traveled to Japan and brought back each of us a Yukata (they are a light-weight summer kimono) from Tokyo – so it was a lot of fun having ALL of us wearing 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 yours …. Akemashite Omedeto Gozaimasu!! … Happy New Year Everyone!!