new_year_dishes Food

What is Osechi?

Have you ever seen Osechi? Have you ever eaten it? Do you know osechi?

Osechi is a traditional Japanese New Year’s cuisine set. It is specially prepared to be enjoyed with family and friends during the New Year’s holiday period. Here are the features and typical contents of osechi cuisine:

  1. Symbolism: Osechi is known for its symbolic significance. Each dish within the set carries a special meaning associated with good luck, prosperity, and happiness for the upcoming year.
  2. Presentation: Osechi is beautifully presented in lacquered boxes or trays, often with multiple tiers. The presentation is as important as the taste, and great care is taken to arrange the dishes in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
  3. Variety: Osechi typically includes a wide variety of small dishes, each with its own unique flavor and symbolism. Some common osechi dishes include kazunoko (herring roe) for fertility, kuromame (sweet black soybeans) for health, and tazukuri (candied sardines) for a bountiful harvest.
  4. No Cooking During the New Year: One of the traditions associated with osechi is that no cooking is done during the first few days of the New Year. This means that osechi dishes are prepared in advance and can be enjoyed without any additional cooking.
  5. Shared Celebration: Osechi is typically shared among family members and sometimes given as gifts to relatives, friends, or business associates as a gesture of goodwill for the New Year.
  6. Flavors: The flavors of osechi can vary from savory to sweet, and there is a balance between different tastes, textures, and colors in the dishes.
  7. Ritual and Tradition: Preparing and consuming osechi is a cherished part of Japanese New Year celebrations and reflects a deep appreciation for tradition and cultural heritage.

In summary, osechi is a set of meticulously prepared and symbolically meaningful dishes that are central to Japanese New Year’s celebrations, emphasizing family, tradition, and the hope for a prosperous and fortunate year ahead.

Let’s take a look at the dishes included in Osechi one by one.

Osechi ryori is often made in jubako to convey “auspiciousness”, and there are four standard types that make up the jubako.

“Celebration appetizer”
“Grilled appetizers”
“Vinegared food”
“Boiled food”

Jubako (重箱) is a Japanese word that translates to “lacquered box” or “lacquered ware box” in English. It can also be translated as “multitiered box” or “tiered food boxes”.

Let’s take a look at the meaning of each one in turn.

Black bean (Kuromame)


Black beans contain the wish that you can work in good health throughout the year.

“Mame” has the meaning of health, energy, and strength and “work diligently” has evolved and become a standard dish for working energetically all year round.

Because of its appearance, it is said that the darker your tan, the harder you work.

Well-cooked black beans have a nice color and shine, and the sweetness spreads from the moment you put them in your mouth, and the more you chew, the more the flavor of the beans comes out.

Herring Roe (Kazunoko)


Herring roe is added to one of the celebratory dishes to pray for “prosperity of descendants.”

Long ago, Hokkaido was blessed with a bountiful catch of herring and was praised as “not just a fish, but like a herring.”

The number of offspring in a herring litter is a symbol of prosperity due to the large number of eggs it produces.

The moment you put herring roe in your mouth and bite into it, the crunchy texture is so refreshing.

The subtle saltiness of the herring roe and the aroma of soy sauce will whet your appetite.

Candied Sardines (Tazukuri)


Tazukuri is made by drying small anchovies and cooking them into candy.

Long ago, when anchovies were used as fertilizer and spread on fields, they produced a good harvest, hence the name.

Since then, it has become a symbol of a rich harvest.

Even though it is small, it looks good with its tail and head, and its bland taste leaves you with an indescribable sweetness that lingers when you eat it.

Burdock Root (Gobou)


Despite being thin, burdock roots grow deep underground.

Burdock has long been considered an auspicious ingredient for people who wish to “establish deep roots and prosper.”

It is also said that seared burdock brings good luck by boiling the burdock until soft and then pounding it open.

Burdock root is full of dietary fiber and is good for the body, and the flavor of the seasonings soaks in just the right amount when the burdock root is pounded just right.

Fish Paste (Kamaboko)


Kamaboko may seem plain compared to other osechi dishes, but it has great meaning.

The semicircular shape of kamaboko resembles the first sunrise on New Year’s Day, and is considered a symbol of sunrise.

It is truly an indispensable ingredient for New Year’s Day.

Although there are various theories, it is believed that the red color of kamaboko has the meaning of auspiciousness, coming out, and protection from evil spirits, while the white color of kamaboko has the meaning of purity and holiness.

The light red and white kamaboko is perfect as a chopstick rest for dishes with strong flavors.

Sweet Rolled Omlet (Datemaki)


Datemaki has its roots in Nagasaki.

It is said that the name “Datemaki” came from the fact that “Castella kamaboko”, which was brought to Edo from Nagasaki during the Edo period, resembled the kimono worn by fashionable people.

On the one hand, it has the role of making it look luxurious, and on the other hand, it is added to osechi dishes with the hope that it will increase knowledge because its shape resembles a scroll.

You can enjoy the sweet and fluffy texture of datemaki, but if you eat it at the beginning of the year while thinking about its origin, it will probably become even more flavorful.

Candied Chestnut with Sweet Potatoes (Kurikinton)


When the chestnuts bloom, the mountains all over Japan are dyed yellow and white.

Chestnuts are representative of the fruits of the mountains, and have been called “kachi chestnuts” since ancient times.

“Kurikinton” is made with chestnuts, which have been highly valued among people as they bring good luck and look like golden treasures, and have come to symbolize wealth.

We pray for a prosperous year while stuffing our mouths with chestnuts.

You can enjoy the contrast between the smooth and sweet red bean paste and the chewy texture of the chestnuts, making it feel like a dessert.

Grilled yellowtail (Buri no yakimono)


This yellowtail is a popular fish whose names change depending on its size: Mojako, Wakashi, Inada, Warasa, and Yellowtail.

Therefore, it is believed that eating it at the beginning of the year will bring good luck for those who wish to advance in life.

Lately, New Year’s dishes often include teriyaki yellowtail.

You can fully enjoy the chewy texture of the sweet and spicy yellowtail.

Grilled Sea Bream (Tai no yakimono)


Sea bream is considered an auspicious fish.

Sea bream is associated with the belief in the Seven Lucky Gods, which spread during the Edo period, as it is owned by Ebisu.

In modern times, it is believed that the word tai'' andcongratulatory” are simply a play on words that bring good luck.

The flesh of the sea bream is light, but simply grilled with salt is perfect as an accompaniment to sake.

Vinegared Vegetables (Namasu)


Kohaku Namasu is auspicious in color and is used in New Year’s dishes as it is similar to mizuhiki used for gift bags and gift paper.

It uses daikon radish and carrots, and like root vegetables, it has strong roots and has the meaning of strengthening the foundation of the house.

It used to be called “kouhaku namasu” because it contained raw fish in addition to daikon radish and carrots, but now the type of fish added differs depending on the region.

Kohaku namasu is a refreshing snack with just the right amount of salt and vinegar taste, and is packed with nutrients.



Chorogi is a unique dish that stands out even among osechi dishes.

Usually one or two are placed on top of black beans, creating a vibrant contrast of red and black.

Chorogi is a food that symbolizes the wish for longevity, as it is written in kanji as 「長老木」「長老喜」「千代呂木」.

Chorogi has a texture similar to that of rakkyo or plum, and can be eaten as a pickle-like snack.

Lotus Root (Renkon)


The reason why lotus root has become a part of Osechi dishes is because of its shape.

As you can see, the lotus root has multiple holes that run straight through it vertically, allowing you to see through it.

It is a prayer that you will have a bright year ahead, as you will be able to see what lies ahead and beyond.

By soaking the lotus roots in vinegar, you can keep them clean without discoloring them.

You can enjoy the crispy texture with a slight sourness.

Konbu Rolls (Kobumaki)


Kelp itself is used in various situations as a lucky charm, but kelp rolls with herring in them are a combination of wishes for the health of parents and the prosperity of their descendants.

It depends on the seasoning, but the combination of herring and kelp has a relatively strong flavor, so it can be eaten alternately with lighter-tasting dishes or as an accompaniment to rice.

In addition to herring, I sometimes add shishamo or saury to make the dish.

Konjac (Konnyaku)


One of the staples of Osechi cuisine is konnyaku, and “bridle konnyaku,” which is made by cutting a slit in the middle and wrapping it around like a rein, is common.

Just as reins are used to control and guide horses, reins konjac also has the meaning of tightening and regulating one’s own mind.

It also includes a wish that the knot will bring you a good match.

Konnyaku itself has a light taste, making it perfect for refreshing the palate after dishes with strong flavors.

Bamboo Shoots (Takenoko)


The bamboo shoots used in nishime also have a strong meaning.

Bamboo shoots grow quickly and grow straight up, as if heading towards the sky.

Combined with this image, it symbolizes the wish that the children will grow up quickly and that they will be successful in the future.

The way it grows also relates to the desire to improve the family’s fortunes.

The bamboo shoots in osechi are often boiled in Tosa, so you can enjoy the perfect combination of the umami of the bonito flakes and the soy sauce, along with the crunchy texture.

Recent trends in osechi

Osechi is no longer bound by tradition and has become popular due to changes in the times, such as the proliferation of nuclear families and the diversification of food. For example, there are variations in the content, such as meat-based osechi for meat lovers, and dessert osechi consisting only of desserts. What’s more, one- and two-tiered dishes are becoming more common, rather than the traditional five-tiered ones, so that even small families can eat them.

The photo is taken from the following site (https://furunavi.jp/discovery/knowledge_food/202011-product-osechi/)