Two adult women wearing Kimonos

For Japanese Americans and Japanese, the holiday season does not end after Christmas. In fact, celebrating the new year is more than toasting each other with a glass of champagne, but is another important occasion for the family to get together. New Year’s Day is one of the most important holidays in the Japanese culture. We celebrate it by eating osechi on New Year’s Day. But why do we eat it? Are the traditional foods nutritious?

What is osechi?

Osechi-ryori is traditional Japanese New Year’s food. The tradition dates back to the Heian era (794-1185). During that time, New Year’s Day was one of five seasonal festivals. For the first three days of the new year, it was taboo to use a hearth to cook and heat foods. Therefore, at the end of the year, women prepared special foods that would last for a few days as they did not cook for the first few days of the new year. Osechi is usually served in the special tiered boxes called jubako, which represent “layering happiness.” A variety of delicious and colorful foods are neatly displayed in the boxes, which begin to resemble jewelry boxes!

What is the meaning of each food in osechi?

Did you know that each item has a meaning or wish? Here are some dishes that make up osechi and their meanings:

  • Kuromame (black beans): to work hard and diligently
  • Kazunoko (herring roe): fertility
  • Kamaboko (broiled fish paste): rising sun, celebration
  • Konbu (seaweed): joy
  • Shrimp: longevity
  • Kurikinton (mashed chestnut & sweet potato): prosperity

What are the nutritional values of the foods in osechi?

Not only does each item in osechi have significance, many are high in nutritional values and are good for our health!

  • Kuromame: rich in protein; isoflavone in kuromame helps to prevent osteoporosis and menopausal symptoms; anthocyanin, an antioxidant, is good for eyes
  • Kazunoko: rich in vitamin B12
  • Gomame (small fish): rich in calcium
  • Konbu: rich in minerals such as potassium, calcium, and lodine; potassium helps to lower blood pressure while lodine helps to increase metabolism; rich in fiber
  • Kamaboko: good source of protein
  • Kurikinton: rich in vitamin C and fiber
  • Shrimp: high protein, low fat; rich in potassium, calcium, vitamin E, and taurine

Knowing the special significance and nutritional values of osechi may enhance the festivities of the New Year’s Day celebrations. But please do not indulge yourself with too much osechi since some of the delicacies may be high in sodium and cholesterol.

Where can I get more information about osechi?

For more information: