今年も宜しくお願いします!Happy new year!

In mainland Japan, the new year (正月, shougatsu) is celebrated according to the modern Gregorian calendar. In Okinawa, the new year is still predominantly celebrated with the Chinese lunar calendar, along with Korea, China, and Vietnam.

From what I gather, for Japanese people, the new year is like Christmas is to Americans; it is the holiday of the year. Businesses shut down, some for an entire week. Families in America send out Christmas greeting cards; families in Japan send out new years greeting cards (年賀状, nengajou).

Here are some Japanese new years traditions:

鏡餅 (kagami mochi)


Kagami mochi is a stack of two or three dry mochi balls with a だいだい (Japanese bitter orange) on top (today, みかん, or Japanese tangerines are substituted for the だいだい). These are placed in homes, businesses, and cars. The two mochi are said to symbolize the coming and going years and the orange to symbolize the continuation of generations.

おせち料理 (osechi ryouri), traditional New Years food


In Japan, the housewives spend the days leading up up to new years day preparing a buttload of food. Then new years eve night, they gather at one friend’s house and they all do tradeoffs, so you come away with a whole variety of dishes (so it’s kind of like our Thanksgiving, where everyone cooks one dish and packs a big to-go box, so you go home with several different dishes). Then your family eats those leftovers the first few days of the new year. I guess the idea is that since the family is tied over with leftovers, the housewife can relax for the first days of the new year.

Traditionally, many of the dishes are pickled, so they last longer. Likewise, there are never chicken dishes, because chicken easily spoils. Today, the large batches of sechi are kept in the fridge, but the family eats only from the juubako (重箱), a set of nesting lacquered boxes in which the vibrant-colored food is beautifully arranged. The juubako is replenished until there is no sechi left.

Sechi dishes each have their own meanings. For example, shrimps are good for long life because if you grow very old, you will eventually be bent over like a shrimp. Kazunoko (数の子) is herring roe for many children (keep that shit away from me). The red and white kamaboko are symbolic of the Japanese national colors (紅白). And so on, so forth.

The sechi that I had wasn’t only traditional ryouri. It was also mixed with salami and cheese — just whatever will last, is colorful, festive, etc.

More info on sechi here.

I also had some おぞに (ozoni), a clear broth soup with mochi. I love this stuff. I really need to make my own one year. A side note, there are many mochi-related deaths every year, particularly from old people choking on the mochi. Strange but true.

紅白歌合戦 (kouhaku uta gassen)

Kouhaku Uta Gassen is an annual singing contest show aired on new years eve. The tradition is akin to Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Kouhaku Uta Gassen invites Japan’s singers to a men versus women song contest (the red team, 紅, is represented by the women and the white team, 白, is represented by the men).

お年玉 (otoshidama)


Otoshidama are monetary gifts given to young children, much like the Chinese li shi (red envelopes).


Tofugu’s “Best Japanese Junk Food of 2012”

It’s like Tofugu read my mind.

One of my favorite Japanese culture and popculture blogs, Tofugu wrote a post on the best Japanese junk foods of 2012. Well. I couldn’t argue one way or another on the credibility of the list … but it all looks good. Japanese junk food satisfies the strangest of my addictions.

Japanese snacks

やおきん キャベツ 太郎 (YAOKIN Cabbage Taro)

Savory little puffs. One bag easily goes down in a matter of minutes. They are a little smokey and sweet, almost like a BBQ flavor. I’m a repeat fan of this snack.

TAKUMA SHOKUHIN Tamagogani Meisaku (Roasted Crab ‘Meisaku’)

(meisaku = masterpiece?)
These are so yummy, one of my all time favorite Japanese snacks. They are whole crabs coated with a sugar – corn syrup glaze and sesame seeds and roasted. You can eat them whole, they’re like sweet crab-flavored chips.
These are so hard to find in Japanese stores. I couldn’t even find them in the Takuma Foods website catalog. The package doesn’t have the name of the product or manufacturer labeled anywhere. It says stuff like “Let’s Party!” … is not the name of the product. But a party indeed it is.

明治 ラッキースティック (MEIJI Lucky Stick Cappuccino)

M<eiji Lucky Stick is the competitor of GLICO's Pocky. Like Pocky, Meiji has a broad variety of these convenient little snacks, from savory to sweet.
This Cappuccino version is a breadstick covered in a thin coating of cappuccino-flavored chocolate. Very good, but not my favorite breadstick flavor.

NESTLE キットカット パンプキンルリン味 (KitKat Pumpkin Pudding flavor)

I love snack series; one base snack that has many versions and permutations. Japan has taken KitKat to a cult level, releasing a variety of flavors, some specific to select regions of Japan. For Halloween this year, Nestle released a “pumpin pudding” KitKat version. The pumpkin flavor is barely noticeable.
This bag contains 13 individually wrapped KitKat bars, each mini package has two short bars.

Recycling in Japan

Recycling in Japan is different from recycling in America. Something I didn’t think about ’til I encountered recycling bins labeled with a picture of fire and the word “PET.” Whoa, you can recycle your pets at the local konbini? Convenient. And harsh.

But no, the fire label is for combustibles and the PET label is for polyethylene terephthalate (polyester family, basically: plastic bottles). You’ll see this PET emblem on American products. I never really paid any mind ’til I went to Japan.

Japanese Snacks

I have a weakness for Japanese and Hawaiian snacks. Anytime friends or family go to Japan or Hawai’i, they ask me what kind of omiyage I want. “Don’t get me anything … just snacks,” is my response.

My friend just came back from a trip, not to Japan, but a shopping trip in LA. He came back with $450 worth of food alone (he’s got a three-person household).

He brought back some ラー油 (raayu, spicy oil seasoning), ふりかけ (furikake, rice seasoning), and Japanese snacks! The snacks were SANKOU Zeitaku Kakimochi, IWATSUKA Kuromame Senbei. and IWATSUKA Onihibi Shoyu-Aji.

SANKOU Zeitaku Kakimochi

Crackers with almonds and kuromame (black beans).

IWATSUKA Kuromame Senbei

Senbei with black beans.

IWATSUKA Onihibi Shoyu-Aji

Crouton-sized puffs. The packaging has fire on it. I thought it would be spicy, but I think the fire was supposed to illustrate the roasty flavor.

Senbei and kakimochi are the best combination of sweet, salty, and roastiness. I killed all three packeds of snacks in four days or so.

Bleh. I’m making myself hungry again.