31 December, 2009

Food for Thought

The New Year is the greatest festival in Japan. People of all classes and occupations in the entire country celebrate it, but it is an intensely personal family affair. Members share the many firsts of the New Year like the first sunrise; the first shrine visit and the first food. No cooking is done for three days with the exception of the hearty New Years soup. Fish, black beans, rolled omelette and vegetables are prepared in advance and served from beautifully decorated multi-tiered trays. The dishes served to celebrate the New Year have special meanings, and with some variations, are enjoyed in every home in the nation. Datemaki, sweet rolled omelette, symbolises many auspicious days ahead. Kazunoku, herring roe eggs, symbolises fertility and are eaten to fulfil the desire for many children in the family. Kuromame, black soybeans, typifies good health, longevity and the ability to work willingly and skillfully. Tazukuri are small dried sardines cooked in soy sauce. The fish were used historically to fertilize rice paddies, and eating it symbolises a prayer for an abundant harvest. Renkon is lotus root and with its many holes it depicts the idea of ease in seeing through things and perceiving a bright future ahead. To let the overworked stomach rest, nanakusa-gayu, a seven-herb rice soup, is prepared on the 7th and 15th day of January! After three days of families doing everything together, slowly over the next two weeks, work and studies are commenced with new promises, intentions and ideals for the year ahead. Source: Neil Verwey jm@japanmission.org

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