Osechi – Traditional New Year’s Food

Written by: elephanthouseid | June 30, 2023

Osechi Ryori
Enjoying and Sharing New Year’s Special Foods

As the year is coming to its end, everyone is running around trying to get all the loose ends (clean the house, pay off your debts, etc.). But after those busy days, they can finally relax for a few days and enjoy their New Year’s osechi ryori. The original meaning of Osechi Ryori was “seasonal festive occasion food” and it was enjoyed on many occasions throughout the year in the past. The current use of the term, however, has been narrowed to refer to the specially prepared and artfully arranged foods enjoyed on the most important of major holidays, New Year’s holiday, with a span of about 3 to 5 days. Traditionally held in special tiered lacquered boxes dedicated for the New Year’s holidays, Osechi Ryori was both an offering to the divine spirits which were said to visit households at this time of year, and a symbol of the wish for happiness and prosperity in the coming year. Learning about the often intricately prepared foods and what they represent can make preparing and assembling your New Year’s feast even more fun!

The Meaning Behind Each Ingredient

Each ingredient carries an auspicious meaning, and the names of many often have a pronunciation that lends itself to two or more interpretations.

Kouhaku Kamaboko

Red and White Steamed Fish Cakes
The red (Kou – in reality, pink), stands for felicity, and the white (Haku) represents sacredness. The shape of the half-circle kamaboko resembles the first sunrise of the New Year from the horizon. Red and white represent the rising sun and Japan’s flag and popular colors in other New Year’s decorations, both edible and ornamental.


Sweet Rolled Omelet Mixed with Fish Paste
A thick omelet made of egg and fish paste is rolled into a spiral shape. The shape of Datemaki looks like rolled up scrolls (makimono) and represents a wish for improving academic skills. 

Nishiki Tamago

Sweet Steamed Layered Egg Yorks and Whites
A beautiful bi-colored egg symbolizes prosperity, with the yellow yolks symbolizing gold, and the egg whites symbolizing silver. Nishiki is a play on words: Usually, the kanji 二色 (bi-colored) is pronounced “nishoku” but also can be pronounced “nishiki” the same as 錦, expensive textile brocade.

Kuri Kinton

Pureed Sweet Potato with Candied Chestnuts
This beautiful yellow color dish is made of Japanese sweet potato puree mixed with candied chestnut chunks or whole chestnuts. At the beginning of the year, eating something yellow, which represents “gold,” is believed to bring good luck and prosperity.


Sweet Simmered Black Soybeans
Black soybeans are simmered in sweet syrup with a hint of soy sauce. It is eaten to wish for diligence, hard work, and the health of the family since both 豆 (beans) and まめ (diligent) have the same sound “Mame”. In addition to that, black is said to ward off evil spirits lurking in the New Year.

Kobu Maki / Konbu Maki

Rolled Kelp Simmered in Sweet Soy Sauce
Kelp rolls are made with fish such as herring, salmon, or smelt in the center, tied with dried gourd ribbon, and simmered for a long time in sweet soy sauce. The word 昆布 “kobu” rhymes with よろこぶ “yorokobu” (to be joyful). 子生 is also pronounced “Kobu” which means “to give birth to a child,” in the wish for the prosperity of offspring.


Shrimp / Lobster
The long antennae and curved backs of shrimp, prawns, and lobsters represent elders and symbolize health and longevity. Usually, cooked with shell and head simmered in a sweet and savory broth or broiled. Their red and white coloring bodies make them a gorgeous stand-out among the other foods in the Juubako box.


Herring Roe
“Kazu” means number and “Ko” means children. Kazunoko symbolizes the wish to be blessed with children because herrings lay many eggs. In the past, salted or dried were the common types of herring roe, but due to the time-consuming nature of the process, seasoned herring roe, which can be eaten as is, is now the mainstream.


Candied Dried Sardine
This dish is a small, dried sardine roasted dry and then caramelized with mirin (sweet sake), sugar, and soy sauce. Tazukuri literally means “to make rice paddy” as sardines were used historically to fertilize rice fields. 


Lotus Root
Renkon is regarded as a lucky vegetable because it has lots of holes, which symbolizes the ease of looking through to the future. Renkon is one of the ingredients for the “Onishime” traditional braised vegetables, a staple of the family Osechi dish. Also “Subasu” sweet vinegar marinated lotus root is popular for the Osechi.


Burdock Root
Growing long and deep into the earth, the burdock root symbolizes both the flourishing and stability of the family in the coming year. Gobo is using for several Osechi dishes such as “Onishime” braised vegetables, “Tataki Gobo” pounding burdock with seasoned sesame, and family staple “Kinpira Gobo” soy-flavored shredded burdock and carrot.


Taro Root
The taro root grows by baby buds sprouting off the parent plant, and this represents a wish for a fertile future. Along with other root vegetables for the “Onishime”, cooking alone for 白煮 “Shirani” white color braised taro and the necessary ingredient for the “Ozouni” soup with mochi in some regions.

Arrangement and Presentation

The traditional method for presenting and storing Osechi Ryori is called “Jubako” a lacquered box with a top lid, which may have three to five tiers. The boxes, chock-a-block with beautifully arranged goodies, are presented stacked, then one by one the tiers are placed on the table, revealing the treasures inside. Osechi ryori is traditionally eaten the first three days of New Year, all the tiers are neatly stacked together, and the lid is placed after each meal and ready for the next meal! The stacking of the layers, “Kasaneru” also embodies the meaning of layering or stacking happiness upon happiness, a thought surely not far from your mind as you are enjoying your meal!Generally, the top tier, Ichi-no-ju, contains appetizers; the second tier from the top, Ni-no-ju, holds vinegared dishes, roasted or grilled items, and skewers of meat and fish; the third, San-no-ju, contains braised or stewed food. But there are as many varieties of dishes, ways of arranging, and ways of presenting as there are prefectures in Japan! And each household has its own special style as well, meaning that there are no hard and fast rules that must be obeyed. Feel free to arrange things as you wish—with or without a Jubako!

Here are a few examples of how you might want to display your own version of New Year’s Osechi Ryori! 

Japanese Style Platter Arrangement
Seven dishes (perhaps representative of the seven deities called Seven Gods of Fortune or Shichi Fukujin that come down from mountain peaks every New Year’s holiday) made up of Kohaku Kamaboko, Datemaki, Kuromame, Nishiki Tamago, Kuri Kinton, Kobumaki, and Tazukuri are artfully arranged on a Japanese style lacquered platter lined with decorative leaves. Using small dishes or sake cups for the Kuromame and Kuri Kinton makes it easier to arrange with other items. Placing Washi or Origami paper under the dishes also brings a festive tone to the table. Remember not to make a dish too crowded; a little spacing makes the food appear more presentable.

Western Style Platter Arrangement
In the center, Kuromame serves in a clear glass or crystal container, and the seven dishes are arranged around Kuromame, avoid placing similar colors side by side for optimum visual enjoyment. Use some herbs or leafy greens to separate sections for a fresh and modern finishing touch. How about squeezing out the chestnut mashed potatoes, decorticating them like a pastry Mont Blanc, and topping them with candied chestnuts?

Individual Serving Plates
Using individual plates, think of the color scheme and attractively plate single portions of Kamaboko, Datemaki, Kuri Kinton, Kuromame, and Tazukuri. Make sure that the portions are not too close to each other, so the individual flavors do not mix. Kuri Kinton decorated with skewered few Kuromame on the pine needles looks fancy. Even if you use the tableware, you normally use, you can add a little artistic flair to your table by serving this or that.

Discover Tokyo Central News, Sales, and More

Shikoku Fair 2023: Demonstration & Tasting

In September 2023, we're showcasing special Shikoku Island products at Tokyo Central and Marukai Market stores. Visit on the scheduled days (**see schedule below**) to savor local Shikoku treats! From Thursday, 9/14 to Wednesday, 10/11 you can explore the specially curated selection of products from Shikoku Island.

Support the Maui Community

Our heart goes out to the people of Maui devastated by the wildfires. Please support the Maui community by making monetary donations.

Easy Soba Recipe

Soba, Japanese Buckwheat Noodle is a type of Japanese noodle made from buckwheat flour. It is typically served chilled with a dipping sauce or in a hot broth...

Taste of Japan:  Find Local Food at Hokkaido Fair!

In August 2023, we are featuring exclusive products from Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan. Hokkaido is the second-largest island of Japan located in the northernmost part of the country. It is known for its beautiful scenery and delicious and unique cuisine...

Skip to content