From 12:00 midnight January 1st until January 3rd, it's all about Japanese traditions. Here's not only what's been going on, but why. For this, I need to recognize my long-time friend C2, who did the homework on the meanings of all the New Year's food. All I knew was that we are supposed to eat it.
We eat toshikoshi soba (means "year-crossing") so that literally the first thing done in the New Year is together with your family, in your home, and in the hope of a year of good fortune. The idea of being in Times Square on New Year's just doesn't compute for me.
Soba are buckwheat noodles and symbolize a long healthy life and a prosperous family. We add kamaboko, or fish cake, with special New Year's designs. This year, I have ume (plum) branches and blossoms, and kotobuki (寿) kanji. Plum symbolizes new beginnings, purity and sweetness. Kotobuki doesn't have a direct translation, but has a rejoicing/celebratory sense with a wish for longevity.
On New Year's morning, the traditional breakfast is ozoni, a clear hot soup with mochi, mushrooms, soba and then whatever particulars a family includes. One of my friend's ozoni actually includes hot dogs, definitely an Americanized version. Ozoni is supposed to help nourish you throughout the year.
Rest of the Day, January 1st
We spend the day with family and friends and pick our way through lunch, dinner and assorted bowl games. Here are some of the traditional New Year's dishes and what they symbolize:
Sekihan (red rice): sticky mochi rice and azuki. In keeping with a red (azuki)/white (rice) color scheme, it is a celebratory food. This is one of my favorites.
Kuromame: black beans simmered in shoyu and sugar. You're supposed to eat one bean for each year of your age to ensure good health for the coming year and general long life.
Kobumaki: rolled seaweed tied with gourd. Sounds like Japanese "rejoice" (yorokobu, 喜ぶ) and symbolizes joy.
Datemaki: a sweet rolled scrambled egg. It's supposed to look like the sun, another celebratory food.
Gobo: julienned seasoned burdock root. The tough texture symbolizes the Japanese way of life and perseverance.
Nimono/nishime: boiled root vegetables. Includes lotus (renkon), cut so that the holes show, symbolizing that you can see the year ahead; bamboo shoots (takenoko), symbolizing fast growth, and carrots cut into the shape of a plum blossom for fertility.
Tastukuri: dried salted sardines (anchovies) for a good harvest.
Satsuma: mandarin oranges, put on top of the mochi (for good luck) and eaten for a good life.