Jen and I have been recovering from our slightly hectic holidays by spending our new years at home. While the Japanese treat Christmas as a romantic couples holiday (somewhat like valentines day), New Years is a huge event, and more of a family thing. They’re usually celebrating from new years eve through the third day of January. Jen went back to work right after new years day proper, but this whole part of Tokyo is like a ghost-town right now, it’s kinda weird.
We actually stayed in and went to bed early on new years eve (exciting I know!) and then had a nice big breakfast of thyme baked eggs with cream and breadcrumbs and one of our delicious Nagoya apples, and of course Fortnum and Mason english breakfast tea!
Fortunately we had plenty of food in the house, since just about everything is closed for almost a week over new years, so we holed up, caught up on sleep, reading, to-do lists, laundry, and all kinds of other not terribly interesting but important things!
The need to be out-and-about not wasting the time we have in this country is one of the pressures of living abroad — but you have to balance touristing with downtime and all the normal maintenance things you have to do no matter what country you’re living in. So this New Years we stayed in, rather than going out to the temples, bars, or other festivities. Sometimes the blog helps us to get out so we have something to report back, but sometimes it’s just nice to have a night in.
The Japanese also tend to drink a lot on New Years eve, but on New Years day and the following two days after that, they also get all dressed up in their fancy kimonos and go to the temples. Midnight on new years is apparently a mob scene. We’ll go next year and take pictures, we promise.
There are particular new years decorations which they put out which are often pine branches with little straw wreaths, wheat stalks, tangerines, and other bits and pieces. They send new years cards which are also a lottery system; each card has a number on it, and you send one to everyone you know. The only exception is if there’s a death in the family, the grieving family sends a card before new years saying as much (they’re not as colorful) so that you know not to send one of the bright red new years cards. The cards frequently also feature the coming year’s zodiac animal — next year is the year of the dragon! Last year was the year of the rabbit.
There is also particular new years food which they eat through the new years holiday. This osechi-ryori, or new year cuisine is all food that you can supposedly just leave out for days — it’s preserved one way or the other, frequently with salt. It’s all also room-temperature. This is so that the food can all be cooked before new years and then nothing has to be prepared through the holiday.
We were lucky enough to be invited to a friend’s home who is half Japanese, and she prepared the traditional foods (plus some other stuff). It was mostly delicious, although I am seriously not a fan of herring roe (which is called kazunoko and is basically a bar of fish eggs which are sortof crunchy — as it’s sometime yellowish in color it’s supposed to represent prosperity, although ours were more brown-greyish). I was surprisingly fond of the candied dried sardines though (called tazukuri).
Going around the platter in the middle of this picture clockwise from the top, there’s the tazukuri, then salmon roe (big orange salmon eggs, which I think are delicious), kobumaki (little simmered packages of seaweed — basically the Japanese love anything done up in cute little packets), kamaboko (the red and white fish cake which are supposed to be celebratory colors), then the kazunoko, a little traditional vinegered salad of daikon and carrot at the bottom, then black beans (called kuromame which are for good health), and last there’s an egg/fish rollup omellete-y thingy that I don’t know the name of properly. In the center there’s kurikinton (which is a sweet goo of mashed sweet potato and chestnuts). Our host also made a simmered lotus root & chicken dish, some chicken legs, and some thin sliced pork over cabbage which are less traditional but definitely tasty. The very first thing you’re supposed to have though is some sake, followed by a soup which has a mochi dumpling in it, called zoni. Mochi is pounded rice and can be quite chewy. Apparently people die every year choking to death on their new years mochi ball soup. Aside from apparently being mildly lethal, the soup is quite nice.
Altogether, perhaps not my favorite of the Japanese cuisine options, but an interesting experience!