Nanakusa-gayu (Seven herb rice porridge)
The evening of January 6 through 7 has the special name of “Seventh-day New Year”. All over Japan people take down heir New Year’s decorations and enjoy various events.
On January 7 in ancient China, people customarily made soup with seven kinds of vegetables as a symbol of their wishes for good health. This custom was introduced to Japan where people already had the custom of eating rice porridge cooked with seven grains on January 15.
These two customs merged and Japanese people started adding seven kinds of spring herbs to make this seven-herb porridge called “Nanakusa-gayu” (七草粥). The original intention is to protect oneself against evils and invite good luck. And to pray for the longevity by eating the seven herbs that endure throughout the winter.
What are the “Seven Spring Herbs” and its meaning?
1. Seri (Japanese parsley) せり: To win the competition
2. Nazuna (Shepherd’s purse) なずな : To cleanse the dirty thing
3. Gogyo (Cottonweed) ごぎょう: Reflects the body of god
4. Hakobera (Chickweed) はこべら : To spread the prosperity
5. Hotokenoza (Henbit) ほとけのざ : Similar shape of lotus position
6. Suzuna (Turnip) すずな : Similar shape of bell that brings god
7. Suzushiro (Japanese radish Daikon) すずしろ : Reflects the purity
How to make Nanakusa-gayu (Seven Herb Rice Porridge)
Ingredients (4 servings) :
1 Seven herbs kit
1/2 Cup (80g) Japanese rice
2 Cup (400ml) Water
1. Peel the turnips and daikon radish and cut into bite-size pieces.
2. Wash other herbs and cut into small pieces.
3. Put rice and water in a pot, cover the lid and heat with high heat.
4. When it starts to boil, turn low heat and add seven herbs.
5. Steam for 10 minutes. Then, turn off the heat.
6. Enjoy with sprinkle of salt, if needed.
Osechi (New Year’s Dish)
Osechi (おせち), the abbriviation of O-sechi-ryori, is a traditional New Year’s Dish which is severed in multi-tiered lacquered boxes called “ju-bako”(重箱).
Many years ago, Japanese people offered special food to the gods on the occasion of five different “sekku” (big festivals). These five were Nanakura, Hina Matsuri, Children’s Day, Tanabata and Chrysanthemum Festival. After the food was presented to the gods it was then enjoyed by the family. It was called “O-sechi (節)-ryori” because it referred to meals eatedn on “sekku” (節句).
Today, it has the specific meaning of festive food enjoyed at New Year’s. In samurai times the food was very spartan but nowadays it is quite elaborate and varies from region to region and family to family.
Osechi is intended to save Japanese housewives the trouble of cooking during the busy New Year’s holidays, so that they can take a break even for a few days, and it is also characterized by its strong overall flavor so that it can be preserved.
Osechi is also stuffed with dishes that bring good luck. For example, boiled shrimp (Ebi no Onigara-yaki) symbolize longevity because they are bent like an old person.
Fukubukuro (Lucky Bag)
Fukubukuro is a Japanese New Year’s tradition in which a fukubukuro is made, the contents of which are unknown, and sold at a substantial discount of 50% or more of the list price. They are usually sold at a discount of 50% or more of the list price.
The word “fukubukuro” is composed of the words “Fuku” and “sack”. Fuku comes from the proverb, “There is good fortune in what remains.”
Popular stores usually have long lines of eager customers waiting for their fukubukuro bags a few hours before they open on New Year’s Day. Foreign brands are also aggressively selling fukubukuro.
Toshikoshi Soba, or year-end buckwheat noodles, is a dish eaten annually on New Year’s Eve in Japan. This tasty tradition carries great significance and symbolizes the crossing over from one year to the next.
The custom of eating soba on New Year’s Eve is said to have started in the Edo Period (1603-1868). There are many theories behind the origins of this custom. One suggests that since buckwheat noodles are easier to cut than thicker varieties, it represents the cutting away of any bad luck built up over the course of the year.
Other beliefs point out how soba is healthy, so eating it is a great way to wish for good health in the new year. Since soba noodles are also long and thin, the noodles symbolize long life. Thus, it’s customary to eat them with the hope for longevity.
This time, I made a tempura soba. Since my kids are not a fan of fried shrimp at the moment, so I fried chikuwa (fish cake), Kanikama (fake crab meat), pumpkin aside with spring roll with ham and cheese. My family ate all of it. Yummy!
My family love dipping style soba. How about you?
Shime-kazari (Special decoration for Japanese New Year’s)
A shimenawa is a rope used to mark the boundary between this world and the next at shrines and other sacred places where gods are worshipped.
A shimenawa with lucky charms and other decorations attached to it is called a shime-Kazari. This is also a part of the Shogatsu event, which means that the house with the shime-kazari is ready to welcome the god of the year and is a sacred place.
The presence of the shimekazari makes the place safe and pure for the gods of the year to come down with peace of mind.
Originally, shime-kazari was usually made of rice straw to wish for a good harvest, but recently, more and more traditional shime-kazari are being arranged.
OBON (Bon Festival)
O-bon is an important Buddhist festival to pray for the souls of the dead and conduct services in their memory. During the o-bon holidays, the souls of the ancestors are thought to return to this world from the world beyond. Lanterns are lit at each house to guide the departed souls back home.
During this season, Japanese people had always given thanks for a plentiful harvest. Over times those traditions were gradually combined with Buddhist rituals to become the Bon Festival celebrated today.
On August 14 and 15, people return to their native towns and gather with other family members to honor the souls of their ancestors. They ask Buddhist priest to come to their homes and read special sutras.
Families gather at the graves of their ancestors and clean all around before placing offerings on a special shelf and welcoming the souls back home.
Tanabata (Star Festival)
Legend has it that Vega and Altair, who are separated by the Milky Way, are allowed to meet only once a year on the night of Tanabata or July 7th.
It is said that if you write your wish on a tanzaku (a strip of paper) and hang it on a bamboo grass, your wish will be granted.
A few years ago, my son Kengo wrote that he wanted to be like me. And this year, it seems that he wishes to be a firefighter!
From ancient times, it has been customary to eat somen noodles in the Milky Way in Tanabata. Today, somen is served for lunch at my son’s kindergarten. My son loves somen noodles, so he also had somen noodles for dinner at home.
Tango no Sekku (Children’s Day)
Children’s Day is a Japanese national holiday which takes place annually on May 5th, and it is part of Golden Week Holidays.
The day was originally called “Tango no Sekku”, or Boy’s Festival, was celebrated in order to wish the healthy growth of the boys in the family. Outside of their houses, families with boys fly large carp streamers called “Koinobori”. Inside they display various kinds of warrior dolls or ornamental helmets called Kabuto because they are believed to be symbols of strength and vitality. At night, people put iris leaves and roots in the bath. It is believed that it will purge noxious vapor.
In 1948, this day was designated a national holiday and renamed “Children Day”. It is now a day for boys and girls to celebrate together.
Traditional foods such as “kashiwa-mochi” and “chimaki” are eaten on that day. Kashiwamochi is steamed dumplings filled with sweet red bean paste and wrapped in oak leaves. Oak trees don’t drop their leaves until new shoots have begun to appear. The leaved represents the wish for continuation of the family line and are thus an auspicious part of these traditional sweets. (To see Kashiwamochi, please check this article.)
Chimaki is also dumplings made of glutinous rice, wrapped in bamboo leaves and tied with a piece of rush. This type of sweets came from China and is seen in various forms around Japan. I found the one at the international supermarket in town.
This year, I displayed the koinobori that Kengo created inside of the house and had special chimaki that is made of glutinous rice with chestnuts and read bean paste inside.
Hinamatsuri (Japanese Doll Festival / Girls’ Festival)
The 3rd of March is the traditional and representative spring event day called “Hina Matsuri” in Japan.
Hina Matsuri is a special time to pray for the growth and happiness of Japanese girls. It is also called “Peach-Blossom Festival” because in olden times, people believed that peach blossoms had special powers to drive away evil spirits. According to the lunar calendar, peach blossoms were in full bloom around March 3. This is the reason that even today peach blossoms are always displayed together with Japanese dolls called Hina Ningyo (ひな人形).
There is a tradition if the baby is a girl, the parents of the mother give a traditional dolls called Hina-kazari (ひな飾り) to their daughter’s family. Hina-kazari is a traditional dolls of Emperor, Empress, their servants and accessories on the tiered stand.
In very ancient times, display stands used to consist of just two or three tiers but over the years they grew more elaborate and gorgeous. I had 7 tier Hina-kazari at my house and my younger brother always tried to climb up. His heroic story is still α hot topic every year among my family. His heroic story is still a hot topic every year.
This day, parents having daughter invite their families and friends to celebrate this event. They display Hina-kazari and serve guests traditional dishes. When I was a child, my family always celebrated the Hina Matsuri together. So, this event reminds me of my childhood every year.
Home Party Menu Ideas
If you are planning to celebrate this Japanese family event, here are the recipes that we prepare here in Japan and also I recommend for home party.
🌸 Main : Chirashizushi (Chirashi Sushi)
🌸 Soup : Hamaguri no osuimono (Cherrystone clam soup)
🌸 Side dish : Potato Salad / Chawanmushi
🌸 Dessert : Sakura Mochi / Hinaarare / Hishimochi
🌸 Drink : Amazake
Do you know this?
It is important to dismantle the display and put away the dolls as soon as the festival is over. The dolls’ faces are covered with special soft paper and each item is carefully wrapped and retuned to its designated box.
People have traditionally believed that if the dolls are kept out for too long after the festival, the daughter of the family will have a hard time getting married. I remember that my mother was rushing to clean up when the Hinamatsuri was over. I hope her annual effort worked!?
– Hinamatsuri (Girls’ Festival)
– Seasonal Event : Hina-Matsuri (March 3rd)
The first Day of the Horse in February is called Hatsu-uma. On this day large festivals are held at Inari shrines all over Japan to pray for a good harvest and increased fortune. Inari is the name of the god of farming and Inari Shrines have been very important in people’s lives.
Foxes are believed to be messengers of the god of farming so people make offerings to foxes of their favorite food which is deep-fried bean curd formed into pockets and filled with sushi rice.
In some regions people offer Hatsu-uma dumplings and pray for prosperity in business.
Related food :
Recipe : Inarizushi (Inari Sushi)