What we can learn from the Japanese New Year

While the Western New Year often evokes resolutions, even regrets, the Japanese New Year is rooted in Shinto traditions, not to mention delicious food.

Fluffy, soft and sweet mochi. Crispy sautéed lotus root. A bowl of fragrant and steaming dashi with deliciously slippery buckwheat noodles. These dishes are both symbolic and tactile reminders of the celebration of the New Year in Japan, the most important holiday in the country.

Called Shōgatsu Where Oshōgatsu, it takes place on January 1 due to Western influences, and it has been celebrated since 1873 in the Meiji era. This time of year is surrounded by traditions, customs and good food.

Japan has two seasons of giveaways, one of which is New Years. Kuppa_Rock / Getty

How is the New Year celebrated in Japan?

Oseibo, which is one of the two gifting seasons in Japan, takes place during the Japanese New Year. These gifts are given to coworkers, managers, teachers, doctors… Really, anyone you want to show your appreciation for all they did for you that year. Fruits, desserts, coffee, tea, and other food items are commonly donated. But the tradition is becoming less and less common as more and more people choose to exchange Christmas gifts.

From the last week of the year to the first week of New Years, from the end of December to around January 3, many businesses have closed their doors to give people time to spend with friends and family. During the last weeks of December, many families observe, oosouji, which means “the great cleansing”. This is when homes, offices and schools are meticulously cleaned. The tradition has roots in Shinto and Buddhist practices.

“The idea, very generally, is that everyday life pollutes the environment and pollutes you, not only physically, but also metaphysically and spiritually,” says Ayako Kano, professor of Japanese studies at the University of Pennsylvania. “From time to time you must cleanse and purify it in order to welcome the deities of the new year.”

After cleaning, many people place kadomatsu, a decoration made of three pieces of cut bamboo, pine sprigs to represent prosperity and longevity, in front of their houses. In Shinto traditions, this decoration welcomes Toshigami-sama, a deity who visits homes during the New Year, bringing wealth and luck. Many houses are also decorated with kagami mochi, which consists of two mochi rice cakes and a Japanese orange stacked on top of each other. Making mochi the traditional way – in a mortar with a large wooden mallet – is also a popular New Years tradition in Japan.

In the first days of the New Year, many people participate in hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the year, to pray for luck and happiness. Buddhist and Shinto shrines are very popular with pedestrians during this period.

Japanese New Year’s culinary traditions

Much of the food eaten at this time of year is or may be suitable for vegans. New Years Eve, called Omisoka, many people eat toshikoshi soba, a bowl of hot buckwheat noodles served in a dashi broth with green onions and fish patties. The name of the dish roughly translates to ‘noodles that go through the year’ and the long, thin noodles symbolize longevity.

Traditional New Year’s food is called osechi ryori, which is packaged in a three-tiered red and black lacquered box called a jubako. While ingredients such as fish cakes, eggs, shrimp, bonito (fish flakes), and chicken make an appearance in osechi ryori, many dishes are easily made plant-based. Popular dishes include a stew called nishime, a recipe for which you’ll find below, as well as tasty dishes like crushed burdock root, lotus root, sweet potato candy chestnuts, sweet black soybeans, pickled turnips. and ozoni, a miso-based soup served with mochi.

3 vegan recipes for the Japanese New Year

LIVEKINDLY reached out to food bloggers of Japanese descent for their favorite Shogatsu recipes and asked them what makes this dish special to them.

The photo shows nishime, a classic Japanese New Year's recipe.
The nishime casserole dish combines lotus roots with carrots, snow peas and more. | Tin Eats Recipe


“Nishime” is a type of nimono, or stew, that is served during the New Years and is considered a classic Japanese-style home-cooked meal. It is made by simmering a variety of vegetables, and sometimes meat, in a broth. The stew typically includes lotus roots, carrots, dried up, snow peas, dried shiitake mushrooms, and sliced ​​konnyaku (a chewy konjac cake) and most of the ingredients are cut decoratively.

The broth, called dashi, is usually made with bonito (fish flakes), but Yumiko Maehashi, who runs the RecipeTin Eats blog with her daughter, says it can easily be made vegan using dried shiitake mushrooms or kombu.

“Each vegetable has a special meaning and the dish contains the wish for a happy family together and their prosperity, which is perfect to be served on New Years,” she says. For example, the holes in the lotus root symbolize a bright future, and the taro represents fertility. Many of the ingredients in nishime are cut into decorative shapes, resulting in a visually appealing dish.

Get the recipe here.

The photo shows the sautéed lotus root.
According to recipe developer Remy Morimoto Park, lotus root is a symbolic vegetable for the Japanese New Year. | Veggiekins

Sautéed lotus root

The round, beige stalk that is the lotus root might not be as striking as the graceful flowers that bloom on the water, but cuts into one and you come across a natural pattern that looks like it. Called renkon in Japan, lotus root has a neutral flavor and crunchy texture that it retains even when cooked or marinated.

“The lotus root is a symbolic vegetable to eat during the New Year. It is believed to bring good luck with the holes symbolizing good fortune (as you can clearly see through the holes), fertility and purity, ”says Remy Morimoto Park, the recipe developer behind the Veggiekins blog, adding that many lotus dishes you come across are herbal by default. His simple stir-fried lotus root dish is “not only delicious, but also visually stunning to serve at the table.”

Get the recipe here.

The photo shows mochi, a classic recipe for the Japanese New Year.
Mochi can be served in soups and stuffed with savory or sweet ingredients. | Pickled plum


Sweet, chewy, and versatile, mochi is a Japanese rice cake made from short-grain japonica glutinous rice that is crushed into a paste and then molded into shapes, like a circle or block. You can eat it on its own or serve it in savory soups, roll it in kinako (sweet soy flour) or stuff it with anko (red bean paste). When stuffed with sweet ingredients, mochi is called daifuku.

“My family loves to get together with my grandparents and make mochi from scratch,” says Carloline Phelps, who runs the Pickled Plum blog. “While the men are outside pounding the rice with a giant pestle and mortar, the women are comfortably seated on the tatami floor inside the house, shaping the dough into balls and laying them on sheets. clean. After all the rice has been pounded, the mochi is distributed among everyone to take it home and enjoy it as they wish.

If you don’t have a mortar or pestle for the mochi at home, you can use a hand blender and microwave, like Phelps does in his recipe.

Get the recipe here.

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