Are you coming to Japan around the New Year’s period? Chances are that you will see many colorful bento boxes in the supermarkets and at some restaurants. These boxes contain osechi ryori, Japan’s traditional New Year’s food. What is the history and symbolism behind this custom?
Osechi Ryori at New Year’s Day
Osechi ryori has a long history that began in the Heian era. Back in the day, it was taboo to cook on the first 3 days of the year, which created a custom of pre-cooking food. Nowadays you can still buy these beautifully packaged bento boxes in department stores and supermarkets around January 1st. Osechi ryori is very practical, as almost all stores and restaurants are closed in the first 3 days of the new year.
This tradition is not only practical, but it is also very symbolic. The box is full of various kinds of food, and each food stands for something. For example, the fish roe symbolizes fertility. Also, the black soybeans symbolize health because the word for ‘bean’ is pronounced the same as the word for ‘health’ in Japanese. And the egg roulade stands for wealth because the white and yellow of the egg symbolize silver and gold.
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