Monday, January 5, 2009

Happy 2009 everyone!

Happy New Year from The Wimmer Family!

Being foreigners in Japan, we were SO fortunate to spend the 1st day of 2009 with our Japanese friends, Tasaka-san and family.

We woke up in the morning and quickly got dressed. The morning went pretty smoothly until we're getting in the car and Rowen spills his sippy cup ALL OVER him. I had both boys wearing matching cardigan sweaters for this special day...but that was all over. Tim was pretty upset with Rowen too, b/c he wasn't listening very well as we were trying to get loaded into the van...
After some yelling (in a disciplining sort of way)...I changed Rowen's clothes and got back into the car!

We were supposed to be at Tasaka-san's house at 10am Of course, now we were running a few minutes late :-)

When we finally arrived, we were so cheerfully greeted! They are the nicest family!
Once inside the house, I couldn't help but notice the dining table; it was beautifully decorated for a wonderful Japanese feast.

Since New Year's day is one of the most important holidays in Japan, there is a special menu for this day. Osechi is traditional food that is eaten throughout the New Year's holiday (until around Jan. 3rd).

Most often everything is placed in compartmentalized lacquer boxes that are stacked in layers

Osechi components:

Kazunoko (herring roe) - tiny yellow fish eggs. Like the tobiko you often find at sushi restaurants, kazunoko have a bite or crunch to them, however, the eggs are not loose. They are marinated in a broth of dashi, sake and soy sauce.

Kuromame (black beans) are soft and quite sweet, although you may notice a bit of soy sauce flavoring.

Gomame (also known as tazukuri) are small sardines that have been dried and then finished in a sweet sauce of sugar, mirin, soy sauce and sake. These are rich in calcium and yes, you can eat the head.

Kombumaki are nothing more than the umami-rich kombu rolled tightly and bound shut with a ribbon of gourd strip (kampyo). Often kombumaki are stuffed with salmon. This is also cooked slowly in dashi, mirin, sugar, and soy sauce.

Datemaki looks like the tamago-yaki (egg custard) you often find in a bento box, but here it's made with a fish paste and has a sponge-like texture. It's quite sweet.

Sweet potatoes and chestnuts are the base of kurikinton, which can look something like yellow mashed potatoes.

Kamaboko, a dense cake of fish paste, is red and white (traditional New Year's colors). You can often find thin slices of this on your soba.

Another red-and-white food you'll find is called namasu - typically daikon and carrots pickled in vinegar.

For vegetables, look for gobo (burdock root), often dressed with sesame. Also lotus root, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and pea pods.

Konnyaku (devil's-tongue starch) and fu (wheat gluten) will also be sprinkled throughout the stacked boxes.

For seafood, shrimp (representing long life) and sea bream (for auspicious fortune) are most typical.

I have to admit, while I was a good sport, there were some items I didn't like very much!! Candied dried sardines, anyone??

But seriously, the food was memorable. You'll never find Osechi on a menu at any restaurant. It's only available in the first few days of the new year and for many years, was only availabe in Japanese homes cooked by Japanese housewives. Today, osechi can be purchased in a department store or local supermarket. But you better be ready to pay a lot. Osechi bento boxes can range anywhere between $100 - thousands of dollars!!

After enjoying some delicious spiced saki and refreshing green tea after lunch, we continued our special day by ringing in the New Year at Tasaka-san's neighborhood shrine.

There were many people in line to visit the temple. Many people brought with them, there old 2008 New year's token to burn at the shrine and purchase a new 2009 token to take home with them. It was truly a unique experience.

We'll remember this New Year day for long time thanks to our wonderful Japanese hosts!


  1. Wow that sounds like a great day! I have never done that stuff but I also would not touch the food!
    Great to hear about though! did you get a new years token? I had never heard of that?

  2. It was a lot of fun for sure!!
    I tried most of the food but some of it was just not for my taste buds...

    We did get a New Year's token.
    After walking down from the top of the shrine, there is a little shop at the bottom of the hill where you can purchase new year's goodies.
    I'm excited to actually have something to take back next year and burn!!