Guest Author - Ching Kin Min
The Japanese simply love food. This can be seen from the fact that the majority of Japanese TV programs feature nothing but food. Furthermore, each particular part of Japan boasts a certain dish or two that’s only available in that area.
Accordingly, Japan has certain dishes that are only consumed in a particular season. Let’s take a look at a couple of traditional dishes that the Japanese eat at around the New Year period.
冬至かぼちゃ toji kabocha (Winter Solstice Pumpkin)
At four particular days of the year, due to the Earth’s rotation patterns, the daylight and nighttime hours become exactly twelve hours each. The exact day varies with each year, but these phenomena take place during a day in Spring, Summer Autumn and Winter each. In Japan, they are called 春分 (shunbun), 夏至(geshi), 秋分 (shubun) and 冬至 (toji) respectively. In the west, their equivalents are Vernal Equinox, Summer Solstice, Autumnal Equinox and Winter Solstice. Now, these terms are not unique to Japan, but the Japanese do have a custom of eating a particular dish during these four periods of the year. During Winter Solstice, it is customary to eat pumpkins. The pumpkins that were grown during the summer are stored, and consumed at this period – reason being that consuming pumpkins during Winter Solstice can supposedly help prevent sicknesses. Winter Solstice occurs sometime in December, near the end of the year.
年越しそば toshikoshi soba (New Year Soba)
On New Year’s Eve, the Japanese have a custom of eating what is called toshikoshi soba. “Toshikoshi” can be loosely translated as “cross over to the next year”. Because soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles) are thin and long, Japanese people eat it in the hopes of living a long life. Also, since the noodle strands can easily broken, eating toshikoshi soba can “cut away” bad experiences encountered during the current year.
おせち料理 osechi ryori (osechi dishes)
Osechi ryori is a type of cuisine that is consumed to welcome the new year, and it’s consumed on New Year’s Day. It contains of a number of dishes that are considered “lucky”. The “good luck” associated with these dishes mainly have to do with Japanese word play (the Japanese are very fond of word play). For example, one dish is red sea-bream, called “tai” (from the word “medetai”, which refers to an auspicious event), and another is a type of seaweed called “konbu” (from the word “yorokobu”, which means “be happy”). Osechi ryori also contains prawns, and these are included due to their body shape – Japanese people eat prawns in the hopes of living to a ripe old age, to the point where they become hunchbacked, like how the backs of prawns are naturally bent. A set of osechi ryori for one family can be pretty expensive, costing up to around 10,000 yen (around USD$100).
The lifespan of Japanese people is among the highest in the world, if not the highest. Perhaps having the food mentioned in this article is the key to this? Never mind the lack of scientific basis…