Happy New Year Everyone! It is already 2006 here in Japan.
According to Chinese astrology, this is the Year of the Dog. Everyone is born during a different animal sign. There are a total of twelve: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat (or Sheep), Monkey, Rooster (or Phoenix), Dog, Pig (or Boar). A person's astrological sign comes around every 12 years. The way to tell a person's personality is broken down even further to the month and time a person is born (I don't know too much about this part).
On the morning of the New Year, we usually eat a soup called "ozoni". This soup varies from area to area and household to household. Kanto (Eastern Japan) usually has a clear broth called "Osumashi".
Kansai (Western Japan) usually adds miso (soy bean paste) to their broth. I made our "ozoni" with a clear broth (even though we are in Kansai) made from katsuo (bonito), niboshi (small sardines), shiitake mushroon and konbu (kelp). I then added some daikon (radish), carrot, shiitake mushroom, mizuna (potherb mustard) and mochi (rice cake).
During the first couple of days of the New Year, families partake in specially prepared food arranged in lacquered boxes (jubako) in hopes for the family's health and prosperity, this is called "osechi".
Nowadays, many restaurants and department store food areas pre-sell "osechi" sets. The "osechi" sets are not only Japanese food, there are also Chinese osechi and Western osechi. I made sort of an osechi. We had our "osechi" for dinner on New Year's Eve. Some of the food has hidden meanings: In clockwise order, the soba (buckwheat noodles) (soup with noodles) is called "toshikoshi" soba.
This is usually eaten at the end of the day on 12/31 to end the year and "crossover" to the New Year. Kuromame (black beans) (purple dish) is a play on words "mame" means bean, but it also means diligent, hardworking. This is eaten in hopes that everyone in the family will work hard and diligently in the New Year.
Datemaki is a type of cooked egg that is rolled while cooking, it represents the "rolling" growth of culture. Kohaku namasu (yellow container) (Namasu literally means something raw and vinegar) is a combination of sliced daikon and carrots and flavored with vinegar and sugar.
The red and white colors are to celebrate the day and also thought to pray for peace. Kohaku kamaboko (fish cake) (fan shaped fish cake) also celebrates the day with red & white colors. The pot stickers (gyoza) and fried renkon (lotus root) were extras that we bought because we thought we wouldn't have enough food...we were wrong!! We also had a little chilled sake (rice wine) to toast with.
Today we got up early to go and pay our respects at different shrines and temples.
In Japan, this is called "hatsumode" (the first visit of the year to the temple or shrine). Different shrines have different gods to pray for different things. For example, you can go to a shrine to pray for success in business, another shrine to pray to thank the gods for healthy feet, and yet another to pray to bear children, etc.
Dessert on New Year's Eve was a gift that Satoshi received from a client: matcha (green tea) rolled cake from Minamoto Kitchoan. The center is adzuki (red bean) paste and chestnuts. The little white confection was a manju (steamed bun) had chocolate adzuki paste inside also from Minamoto Kitchoan.