After a little delay, I'm back on the blogging bandwagon and ready to roll out some overdue posts (I think I still have some NYC ones to do... oops), as well as documenting my trip over the New Year to Japan before it becomes too redundant!
It was my first visit back in three years, so it felt a little strange at first when I landed in Tokyo on the 30th (the sunset below was a lovely welcome), but then the two weeks that followed went by in a flash and I had a great time.
First things first - the day after I arrived, we took the bullet train to Osaka, to spend the New Year with our grandma. I'm not sure what was the highlight of the train ride, between the delicious "eki-ben" (endless bento options!) or the view of Mount Fuji we caught through the window.
I'm excited to share some very traditional Japanese New Year highlights - the New Year celebrations are the most important in Japan, and there are some specific (mostly food-related) elements that make it so unique from how the rest of the world celebrate. Our grandma is a) very traditional, and b) a wonderful cook, so I'm fairly confident that you're seeing an authentic and delicious example here!
It starts with "toshi koshi soba" (soba for the passing year), which is a bowl of soba noodles to be eaten on New Year's Eve. The noodles symbolises a long life, and welcomes in a healthy new year. We usually eat this after an already filling dinner, but I always manage!
Then the real deal comes the next morning - the New Year breakfast. After greeting each other, we sit down for Osechi and Ozouni. Osechi is a selection of boiled vegetables, fish and seafood, served in jubako (the wooden boxes), and each element has a meaning behind it (e.g. prawns that are bent to represent old age/a long life, kazunoko (herring roe) for fertility, etc.) - this isn't necessarily the best tasting selection of food, as it originates from women preparing food that can last for days over the festive period. It looks pretty though, and the taste isn't bad at all - just not that interesting.
The better part, food-wise, is the Ozouni - a kind of soup/broth with mochi and other varied additions. My grandma makes the white miso version with fresh mochi and vegetables, as that is the version from the Kansai region, but my mum makes the clear broth version from Kanto with chicken and komatsuna. I personally prefer the clear broth, but prefer the mochi in the white miso - but both are delicious, and I always have seconds.
Another New Year delicacy is the Hanabira mochi, literally meaning flower petal dumpling. It's a very light pink mochi, with a sweet and salty white miso bean paste filling, and folded over a stick of gobou. I love it, especially with a cup of matcha tea.
I mentioned that our grandma is a wonderful cook, and she really is - she used to cook for all our grandfather's employees, and can honestly whip up anything on the spot (her fridge is also scarily well stocked at all times). I captured her making my absolute favourite dish of hers, the tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette) - it's all well and good admiring her expertise, but I'm far from knowing how to do it myself!
She is also the only person I know who still has a dial phone. It's quite amazing and probably about 60 years old.
All in all, we had a very relaxed time in Osaka - my grandma is always running around (she is extremely fit for an 82 year old) and we just chill out watching funny Japanese TV and eating good food. She'll probably outlive us all.
I hope it's been interesting to get a little insight into a traditional Japanese New Year - it's a fascinating culture and I'm so happy to share it with you.