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Why don’t young people in Japan like eating traditional New Year’s dishes?

By Casey Baseel

During the year of college I spent doing homestay in Tokyo, for New Year’s, my host family and I ate a traditional osechi meal. Served in a multi-layered box, almost each of the dozen or so dishes had some sort of auspicious meaning behind it, and the presentation and cultural significance of the whole affair was a memorable experience.

That said, I’ve never found myself craving osechi again, and it turns out my lack of enthusiasm isn’t a result of my foreign background. More and more young people born and raised in Japan are deciding they can do without osechi at New Year’s, and they’ve actually got some pretty sound reasons why.

Osechi has generally been the most opulent meal of the year. Aside from being considered delicacies in their own rights, the dishes symbolize health and prosperity, such as sea bream ("tai" in Japanese, which is close to "medetai" or “auspiciousness”), "kazunoko" (herring roe, with its large number of eggs serving as a portent for the eater’s many future descendants), and "ozoni," rice cakes whose extreme stretchiness is meant to be evocative of a long life.

These days, though, an increasing number of young people aren’t really looking forward to the feast, and judging from online comments, they’ve got six major complaints.

1. It’s a pain to make

Traditionally, people eat osechi for each of the first three days of the New Year, so if you’re making yours at home, you’ve got a lot of cooking to do. Since no one really wants to spend all of January 1 to 3 in the kitchen, though, the custom has been to prepare three days’ worth all at once at the tail end of December.

This isn’t as simple as the time-honored bachelor strategy of making a massive pot of spaghetti, either. For a proper osechi meal, you need at least eight different items, and somewhere closer to 16 for the full effect.

But hey, if you don’t want to cook, you can always buy ready-made osechi, right?

2. It’s expensive

The modest example pictured below, which is listed as being enough for one meal to be shared by two or three people, will set you back 11,500 yen. Multiply that out by however many you’ll need for all the members of your family, plus the three days osechi is traditionally eaten for, and you’ll quickly see that cost is the poison center to the silver lining of store-bought osechi.

3. It’s not exactly fresh

Deluxe, pre-made osechi sets are delivered through the mail, meaning that customers are paying top dollar for what’s arguably day-old food, with even more time passing until the last day of osechi on January 3.

4. It’s a package deal

For the most part, Japan is OK with putting its palate in the chef’s capable hands, as attested to by the many popular restaurants where customers order set courses, sometimes without knowing exactly what each dish will be. In general though, there’s some sort of theme. A sushi set will consist primarily of raw fish, and the course at a yakitori restaurant can safely be assumed to have chicken skewers of various cuts playing the starring role.

Osechi meals, though, tend to be all over the place flavor and ingredient-wise. Just because you love the sweet omelet rolls called "datemaki," an osechi mainstay, doesn’t mean you’ve got any interest in munching on "tazukuri," the osechi stalwart of sardines seasoned with soy sauce. Several online commenters say they’re not convinced it’s worth throwing their money away on the dozen or so dishes in a premade osechi meal they don’t want just to get at the one or two they do.

5. Allergens are part of that package

Over the last two decades, Japan has become extremely conscious of food allergies. We mentioned above that osechi is served in multi-layered boxes, which is to give the impression of blessings and good fortunes piled upon one another in the year to come. Some people, though, are uncomfortable with shellfish and eggs being in such close proximity to each other during shipping and the three days after delivery. In households where both parents don’t eat osechi because of allergy issues, a self-perpetuating cycle gets set up, because if Mom and Dad aren’t eating it every year, their kids won’t grow up with the custom either.

6. The chopsticks might be really dirty

The last complaint about osechi isn’t about the food itself, but rather the chopsticks used to eat it. Instead of the regular chopsticks you use every day, osechi is supposed to be eaten with a pair of "iwaibashi," wooden chopsticks placed in a wrapper adorned with the character for kotobuki (longevity and prosperity) or some other celebratory imagery. After each meal, the "iwaibashi" are tucked back into the wrapper and put into the box with the leftovers, to be taken out and used again for the next osechi meal.

And no, we didn’t forget to mention the part where they’re washed.

Granted, if you’re following proper table manners (and have deft enough fingers), the chopsticks shouldn’t really be coming into contact with your lips, tongue, or teeth very often. Still, they are touching the food, and after three days, they’re bound to build up a layer of oil, grease, and other residues, and a lot of hygiene-conscious young Japanese would just as soon not have that as a hidden ingredient.

Source: Naver Matome

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Proceeds from gourmet New Year’s meals to be donated to help feed undernourished children -- How to prepare for a Japanese New Year -- Vegetables are smarter than fruits: Three high IQ Japanese veggies

© RocketNews24

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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I agree with all of them. Once, over 20 years ago, I bought it. I was clueless. Now I know better.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

I think in the end, people forget because of the heavy use of sugar and salt to preserve the food, unless it's very carefully prepared, osechi ryori is not as delicious as some people think. Indeed, even many older Japanese are less likely to eat osechi meals (I think it's a just about a running joke in Japan that people "like" osechi foods like Americans "like" a fruitcake).

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I think that osechi was designed more to give the most important person in the Japanese household (mummy) a well deserved New Year break, rather than to be delicious to eat. Osechiis hozonshoku food to be preserved, like canned, dried or pickled food in the West. If Westerners ate baked beans, crackers and pickled onions at Christmas it would not be all that popular with the young folks either, but the person who does the cooking would be able to put their feet up.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Chicken from China is the only reason

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There is a custom that resembles a taboo against working on New Year's Day in Japan as well as China (from where the custom probably came). But these days, yes, I'm in complete agreement with the gentleman above who said osechi is made to give the womenfolk a break from the kitchen. Due to the reasons of prohibitive prices and dishes I don't like, I have made my own osechi for several years. However, it is a LOT of work, and last year I was sick and tired and I just couldn't do it. But it made me feel sad that I didn't get my osechi.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Another instance of something that started out as a practicality (no stores open back then, no fresh produce available, it's a holiday so have a break), being presented as this deeply meaningful ritual. Funerals in Japan are another example. An overpriced, unnecessarily elaborate, high-pressure but outdated custom. I don't think I've talked to anyone who says they love osechi.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

If I had a Japanese family here then I'd probably eat it, but I don't and it's too damn expensive

1 ( +1 / -0 )

We order a small o-sechi pack to be delivered to the MiL - not enough for three days, just a taste of the traditional for her. She looks forward to it each year, and enjoys it. The rest of the family is happy eating things that actually do taste nice, and since I'm the one doing most of the cooking, our New Year menu tends to lean heavily westwards and to have a strong Christmas bent - Chestnut and Stuffing Pie, Veggie sausage rolls, mince pies, rich fruit cake, stollen, sprouts, trifle. For lunch on New Year's Day though we do like to go traditional with o-zoni, a bit of kuri-kinton and some senmaizuke.

But all that overcooked, over-flavoured, preservative-loaded full-scale o-sechi - meh. I want something a bit tastier for one of the most important meals of the year. With modern freezing techniques, there's no need to spend holidays sweating in the kitchen; get the bulk prepared ahead of time and freeze it, then all that's needed on the day is to shove it in the oven and spend a minimal amount of time doing the twiddly bits.

3 ( +3 / -0 )


You make real, real trifle? With sponge and jelly and cream and all that? And custard? I'd forgotten that existed....

0 ( +0 / -0 )


No jelly cos of the gelatine, but it's got everything else including shaved chocolate and hundredsnthousands on the top. But not the sherry, cos of the tinies. And the bottle of sherry usually doesn't make it that far into the season anyhooz.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The other thing about Osech, containing black beans, fish eggs, burdock root (gobou), steamed minced fish sausage (kamaboko) and various other fried fish, fried egg, pickled vegetables, rolls of seaweed, is that it is pretty low in calories compared even to standard Japanese food, and even to some of the tastier Western things that can be frozen.

The New Year, held after extensive cleaning of the home, is the festival of the Mirror Goddess who is consumed and internalised with the mirror rice cake eaten somewhere between the 4th and 20th of January, at which time the Japanese want to look their best. So in that sense, osechi may also be calorie-controlled, diet food.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I do make some osechi, but only what we like, date-maki, beans, nishime, ozoni. I do something with shrimp too, whether they're stuffed and roasted, or shrimp cocktail. After that, we have my mother's cinnamon cake (a Christmas treat), a few varieties of cookies, and for meals eggplant Parmesan, sukiyaki and the like, the cake,cookies and parmesan done ahead and frozen.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Rather than osechi, what I really enjoy at New Year is toshi-koshi soba.

Now, that is a magnificent and sumptuous feast, fit for a king (or rather, emperor)

And, of course, I haven't had soba at all during the year so I really look forward to it as something incredibly unique and special to have at New Year.

And all the various dressings and all the variations it comes in... it beats, for example, a Western roast turkey dinner hands down...

I am just surprised the Japanese haven't developed a tradition of a toshi-koshi onigiri... of course exactly the same as any other onigiri... but just being called "toshi-koshi" would make it so special and unique...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My first experience with O-sechi was years ago at my future parents in laws. I didn't mind the taste so much - quite nice, but then shes a great traditional cook, but I was a little bewildered when the first day trays (about 5) became 3 trays on the 2nd day and 1 still going on the third. None of this food was ever refrigerated - a "samuii desu ne" was apparently enough of a spell to keep the food biologically intact.

But I never ate it after day one, just shuffled it around the plate and howed down more piping hot Ozoni (no bugs) and said I was full.

I'm sure many young kids brought up on pasta, curry rice and instant noodles would declare O-sechi inedible.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Tastes change - those used to eating McDs or KFC will have had their taste buds buggered, so traditional tastes will seem less enjoyable.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

They look and taste good. When I was young, I didn't like traditional food either. Bust as I grow older and my taste buds become more mature, I started to enjoy more traditional food. Though, I do crave for burgers every now and then, but will not be McKD though. It will be something a lot better such as with portobello mushrooms.....

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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