Thursday, January 5, 2012

Oshogatsu: Japanese American New Year's Day

For Japanese Americans, New Year's Day is a big holiday, one of the biggest of the year.

I remember the special day when I was a little girl--the family getting together at Bachan's house, my mom, aunties and grandmother bustling in the kitchen while my cousins and I ran around having fun together. When our close family friends would stop by for a visit, we would try to be on our best behavior and most often that would be the time Uncle Mas or Uncle Shig would give one of my older cousins money to walk us all down the street to go candy shopping a few doors down at the liquor store.

Such nice memories.

For the past several years, my sister-in-law Reiko has been in charge of the Fujimoto Oshogatsu. She's from Japan and knows what's proper for each layer of the jubako--the fancy Japanese lacquered three tiered boxes the traditional Osechi Ryori (New Year's food) is served in--but this year Reiko was on a long overdue visit with her mother in Japan so my mother-in-law took over.

O-Baachan made a jubako filled with traditional foods.

When I was little, I remember my aunties telling me the meanings of certain foods and why it was important to eat them on New Year's Day. I was told the kuromame (black beans) are "good luck beans" and every year I would eat just a few. Now I like them and eat a spoonful.

The small fish are tazukuri--they're small dried sardines seasoned with shoyu, sugar and mirin. I don't remember why we eat them, but when asked, improvised and said that, 'tazukuri travel in schools so we eat them so we all stay together'.

Kurikinton is a sweet yam and chestnut paste, kamaboko is the red, white & green sliced fishcake and tamagoyaki is yellow sweet egg.

The second layer has (from upper left) kinpira gobo (burdock root)--it's a long root and the meaning to us is it's eaten to keep family roots deep.  Next to it is octopus, below that is kazunoko, or herring eggs, which stand for fertility. To the left of the kazunoko is renkon which is lotus root--you eat that to help you see the future.

Top right, the small satoimo, or taro potatoes, stand for prosperity, they're one of my favorites. O-Baachan makes a flavored, spongy tofu, which is a favorite of mine also--I call them cosmetic sponges--and I'm sorry to say I don't know what the proper name is. Takenoko (bamboo shoots) is to their left and above that are the diplomas. I think a lot of Japanese-Americans call the rolled kombu 'diplomas'--we eat them for happiness because kombu is similar to the Japanese word yorokobi.

You can also buy trays of traditional Japanese New Year's food from Marukai or Nijiya markets--my parents brought over this tray.

They also brought over this tray of assorted sashimi.

Mom made Spinach with Tofu & Sesame Seeds with some julienne cooked carrots added.

Cucumber Salad with Saifun, which my mom always makes and is popular in my family.

 She also made teriyaki chicken.

There's lots of other foods, too, way too much--everyone makes their specialty. I'm sorry I didn't get a photo of everyone's dishes, I only got pictures of what was there at the beginning--we had an eclectic array of foods. Warren made nori maki and inari zushi, Penny made her California roll with fresh crab and Twice Baked Potatoes. Lorraine and Penny made tamales (yum!), Eugene made ozoni (mochi soup) and Nancy made Oven Baked Pork Ribs. Glen brought oden (a winter stew), Connie made Cabbage Ramen Salad, Karen made Spinach Dip and I made Green Chile Posole  and Nishime.

Mom made apple strudel for dessert too!
(I get it from my mom...)

There was lots and lots and lots of good food--but the best part of the celebration is not the food.

The best part of New Year's Day is family. This year both sides of my family were here all day--it's so nice to simply be together. We reminisce about the old days when our extended family got together at Bachan's house and plan what's happening with all of us for the coming new year. It's fun getting to know in-laws better as well as visiting brothers from Chicago, nephew's girlfriends, and everyone wants to hold 8 month old E.J.

Our family is just like all others--we have our squabbles, things are said and family members get their feelings hurt. What's really nice is we give our family the benefit-of-the-doubt and trust one another that the continuation of having a close family has priority over egos. You have to keep coming, because the family will go on without you. What happens is that when everyone continues to come to family gatherings, pages and pages can be added to the book of Our Family, and more often than not, the difficult times become an excerpt and get buried beneath good memories and laughter.


A few photos from the day...

O-Jiichan and O-Baachan.

Rick and Jessica.

E.J. and his mother, Maria--if you've been following along you might remember the Grilled Chicken in Citrus Marinade that caught on fire that I made to 'help' Maria by making her dinner.



 Karen and Mitchell.

Beeto during New Year's Eve's game night.
There may come a day when Beeto would rather spend New Year's Eve with her friends, but we are so happy she comes to spend the night with us!

Sue and Rick. 
We were sorry to miss Sue's granddaughter's 1st birthday party on New Year's Day, but were happy to see them the night before!

His family and the Fujimotos were friends in since junior high.

And their son, Bryan--the evening got a little late for Bryan.

Happy Year of the Dragon!


  1. And it is also the Chinese New Year! A festive time when we lived in Hong Kong. The sounds and smell of firecrackers - all day long! Children anticipating the little red envelopes containing money. Friends and family visiting. As with the Japanese, all the food prepared for the day has meaning.

    Wishing you happiness and prosperity!

  2. Awww it is so nice to see your happy family and delicious traditional meals. This year I couldn't eat it due to traveling but to tell you the truth I only like a few items from Osechi. I need to check Nijiya's Osechi next year. It might be cheaper to get a small box as I don't think my husband or kids would be interested. So that's why I was envious while reading because all of your family still kept Japanese tradition. It's getting hard to keep all the Japanese festivals and special meals... It's shame on me! Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!