What do you eat for New Year’s Eve in Japan? Discover the Osechi Ryōri

2019年 12月27日

In Japan, since the Hei'an era (794-1185), an assortment of small dishes called Osechi is traditionally eaten in the new year during the first three days of the year. In fact, at the time, the tradition was not to cook from January 1st to 3rd, and for this purpose, the mother cooked enough food for it to last the whole period. The different dishes that compose the meal, well assorted in a box called jubako, which looks like a bento box but more fancy, have of course evolved over the years, and can change from one region to another, but these are the traditional ones and the meaning given to them:

- Kurikinton

This dish consists in mashed sweet potato to which sweet chestnuts are added. Although it is not a dessert, the very sweet taste of this dish may surprise. Its golden color calls for a good fortune over the upcoming year.


- Datemaki

This dish is a light sweet omelet mixed with shrimp or Hanpen (fish paste). As its shape resembles that of a scroll rolled up once cut, this omelet is associated with knowledge and success in studies.


- Tazukuri

These are dried sardines cooked in soy sauce. The name of this dish literally means “rice paddy maker” because, historically, sardines were used to fertilize fields. It is therefore a symbol of good harvests to come.



Konbu seaweed, sometimes also called kobu, is wrapped around salmon to create makis without rice and with an extremely rich taste. As the name kobu recalls the Japanese word yorokobu, it is often associated with joy and happiness.



Tai is the name given to red sea bream in Japanese, which is often grilled. Its name is found in the word medetai which means favorable or also promising and it is therefore the symbol of an auspicious event to come.


- Ebi

You may have heard that word before because it simply means shrimp in Japanese, so it’s often on sushi menus. With their long whiskers and bent backs, these little beasts represent... the elderly! And they are therefore perceived as a symbol of longevity.


- Kuromame

These are small shiny black beans that are generally aesthetically pleasing since they create a contrast with the traditional red jūbako boxes in which the Osechi are served. These beans are considered to be very healthy and are therefore a symbol of good health for the year to come.


- Surenkon


The lotus root is an ingredient widely used in Japanese cuisine, in the new year, it is cooked marinated in mild vinegar to which mirin and spices are added. The characteristic holes that punctuate the renkon represent the possibility to see the future, and thus the wish of a happy future.



It is a very refreshing salad of shredded carrots and daikon (Japanese radish) which mixture of white and orange colours evokes happiness. The whole is marinated in mild vinegar that adds to the flavor of the dish.



These are white and pink boiled fish cakes. Their appearance is very beautiful and their texture is quite mellty in mouth, a bit like surimi. Their shape recalls the rising sun of Japan and is therefore a festive symbol.


- Kazunoko

The kazunoko is a dish made of salted herring eggs, the name of which literally means “lot of children” and it is therefore a wish of fertility for the coming year.


Since this list is not exhaustive, there are many variants of these dishes and those that can be added to the Osechi Ryori. If, traditionally, the mother of the family was the one who prepared these dishes, we can now also buy or order them in stores. However, their price remains quite high due to the quality and variety of the ingredients. Recently, there have been Western, Chinese and Korean versions of this cuisine. So if you’re spending the new year in Japan, have fun trying this traditional meal!