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)
Harikuyo (Memorial Service for Needles)
Do you sew clothing for yourself using needle and thread?
In Japan, sewing was an essential part of everyday life long time ago.
On February 8, women took a day off from their sewing responsibilities and collected the old needles they had used during the previous year. This memorial service for needles is called “Harikuyo” (針供養).
People stuck the needles into a block of tofu or other soft things like cakes of konnyaku (gelatin made from the root of a plant called devil’s tongue). They gave thanks and offered prayers for the repose of the needles. They also prayed for improvement in their sewing skills.
There are some shrines today that perform memorial services for needles. This important tradition is still kept at schools which teach kimono-sewing skills and also at dressmaking schools.
Since my son entered kindergarten, I have more opportunities to sew. To be honest, I’m not good at sewing, but I want to do my best as much as I can. With that in mind, I prepared tofu and konnyaku and offered this event.
Setsubun (Seasonal Division)
Setsubun (節分) comes as soon as the fluttering January is over. Setsubun is a seasonal division and has been an important time-honored rite to welcome the New Year by banishing evils and keep the house from calamity.
On the day, we eat “Eho-maki”, sushi roll containing 7 ingredients associated with the Seven Deities of Good Fortune “Shichi-fukujin”, facing the direction of Eho that is most lucky for the year as determined by the Way of Yin and Yang.
The other day, I made my-style Ehomaki and I put more than 7 ingredients! I put Japanese omelette, Cucumber, Minced tuna, Kanpyo(seasoned dried gourd strips), Anago(conger eel), Kanikama(fake crab meat), Seasoned shiitake mushrooms, Sprouts and Denbu(sweetened fish powder colored in pink). It is also customary to eat Eho-maki while making a wish in the mind with the eyes closed and without uttering a single word. You will eat the whole roll at a stroke in order not to lose ties.
If you are interested in making thick sushi roll, please check this recipe! : Thick Sushi Roll
In the olden days, it was customary for women who had been working hard for New Year’s housework to take a break from work as a celebration of the Hatsuka Shogatsu (20th of January). They went to their hometown to take a rest, or some came back from their hometown after the New Year holidays.
Depending on the region, New Year’s treats and rice cakes are eaten up until that day. This is the feeling of gratitude for the fruit of not leaving New Year’s food is also included.
Koshogatsu (Small Shogatsu)
In Japan, the time between January 1 and 7 is called “Big Shogatu” and the several days around the 15th are called “Small Shogatsu”.
Shogatsu traditions are still continuing here in Japan and my family and I had a lot of mochi and red beans this week.
On January 11th, people take down the kagami-mochi which had been offered to the god of the New Year during Shogatsu. This Japanese seasonal event is called “Kagami-biraki” (鏡開き, Opening the Rice-Cake Offerings). People smash the hardened mochi into pieces with heir hands or small mallet because using a knife or saying the word “break” wold displease the god. This explains the reason this event is called “Opening the Kagami-mochi”. The pieces of hardened mochi are grilled and one or two are put into Zenzai or Oshiruko which is a kind of sweet soup made of simmered red azuki beans, sugar and water. In this way, everyone receives a portion of the god’s blessing to live happily throughout the whole year. If you are interested in Oshiruko recipe tutorial, please check here!
In very ancient times the period between the full moons was considered one month, so the 15th marked the beginning of a new month. Even after Japan began using the solar calendar people continued to celebrate the “Full-Moon New Year” on January 15 and enjoy many special events.
It was the custom to enjoy azuki porridge during “Ko-shogatsu” (Small shogatsu) and pray for good health. In addition, people believed they could predict the abundance of the harvest by how the porridge was cooked and the way it turned out.
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.