How is everyone spending the New Year?
Japan is filled with the festive atmosphere of the New Year. It makes me stand a little taller.

In Japan, there is a tradition of eating a special dish called “Osechi Ryori” during the New Year.
In this post, I will introduce what exactly Osechi Ryori is, its history, and meaning and the wishes that go into each dish.

History of Osechi Ryori

Osechi Ryori is still a standard New Year’s dish today, but its history dates back to the Yayoi period (around the 10th century)!

When the calendar system was introduced to Japan from China during the Yayoi period, people began to make festive offerings called “Osechiku” to the gods at the change of seasons, following the Chinese custom, and to eat “Osechi” as a gift from the gods.
In the Heian period (710-1192), this custom of eating Osechi became a court event, and during the Edo period (1600-1868), it spread to ordinary households.
In addition, although Osechi is now a well-established New Year’s dish, at that time it was eaten at every of the five annual events called Gosechie (five festivals).

Osechi in Present Days

Osechi in present days is generally packed in stacked boxes as shown in the photo. Although it is also considered basic to pack the food in a 5-tiered boxes (Jubako), recently more and more families are preparing 3-tiered or 1-tiered Osechi because the quantity is too large for the number of family members.
From the top, the stacked boxes are called “Ichi-no-ju,” “Ni-no-ju,” “San-no-ju,” “Yo-no-ju,” and “Go-no-ju.” Look at the fourth tier is not called “Shi-no-ju”. Fourth is usually read “Shi” in Japanese, but because “Shi” is associated with “death,” the fourth tier is given the alternative reading “Yo”.

Meaning of Each Osechi Dish

Osechi dishes have been popular in Japan since ancient times, and each dish has its own meaning. Here are the wishes behind the Osechi dishes in the order of the stacked boxes.

Ichi-no-ju (First Tier)

The first tier mainly contains celebratory appetizers (Iwaizakana), which are accompaniments to alcoholic beverages, and “Kuchitori”, sweet dishes to be eaten with soup.

Dish nameDescriptionWishReason
KazunokoSalted herring roePerpetuation of descendantsBecause Kazunoko has so many eggs.
KuromameSweetened black beansto be able to work “Mamemameshiku” (faithfully) and energetically.Word play with “Mame”
TazukuriDried Japanese anchovyAbundant harvestBecause Japanese anchovies were used as fertilizer for the fields in the past.
Tatakigoboburdock seasoned with sesameAbundant harvestBecause it resembles a black Zuicho, a symbol of a good harvest.
DatemakiSwirled egg omeletMore knowledgeBecause it looks like the shape of an old scroll
KurikintonChestnut stewed in soy sauce and sugar with sweet potato pasteSave moneyBecause the dish color is bright gold and “Kinton” can be read as a mass of gold
KobumakiHerring wrapped in seaweed and tied with Kanpyo (dried gourd)CelebrationBecause Kobu (seaweed) has the same sound with “Yorokobu” (to be pleased)
Kohaku-kamabokoPair of red and white cut fish cakes (sometimes in the shape of a peacock)Red for protection from evil and joy, white for holiness.Because it is a happy color pair

Ni-no-ju (Second Tier)

The second tier is often followed by a “grilled” seafood dish, as shown below (I love the yellowtail teriyaki).

Dish nameDescriptionWishReason
Grilled shrimpGrilled shrimp with saltLong lifeBecause the shrimp’s back is bent like a old person
Grilled sea beamGrilled sea beam with saltCelebrationBecause Tai (sea beam) has the same sound with “Medetai” (happy)
Yellowtail teriyakiGrilled yellowtail with teriyaki sauceSuccess in workBecause yellowtail are called by different names as they get bigger

San-no-ju (Third Tier)

The third tier usually includes vinegared dishes for palate-cleansing.

Dish nameDescriptionWishReason
Kikka-kabuVinegared turnip cut to resemble a chrysanthemum flowerWard off evil spiritsBecause chrysanthemums are believed to have the power to ward off evil spirits
Kohaku-namasuVinegared shredded daikon radish and carrotCelebration
Stable family business
Red and white are auspicious colors, and daikon and carrot mean “stability” because they grow their roots

Yo-no-ju (Fourth Tier)

The Fourth tier usually include stewed mountain vegetables. Root vegetables are usually stewed in Chikuzen-ni (boiled and seasoned vegetables) along with chicken and other ingredients. Since many ingredients are stewed together, it also has a meaning such as all family members get along well together.

Dish nameDescriptionWishReason
Chikuzen-niLotus root, carrot, daikon radish, shiitake mushroom, burdock root, etc. simmered with chickenForeseeable future, long life, stable family business, and family unity

Because lotus root has a hole in it (foreseeable), shiitake mushrooms resemble the shell of a turtle (long life), burdocks have extensive roots (stable), and Chikuzen-ni is made by simmering various things together (unite)
ShironiSweetened black beansPerpetuation of descendantsBecause one seed potato produces many potatoes
Tazuna-konnyakuSimmered twisted konnyakuGood match and happy marriage Because a knot is formed in the twisted konnyaku and the Japanese word for a knot “Musubu” means matchmaking

Go-no-ju (Fifth Tier)

The fifth tier is also called the “Hikae-no-ju”, meaning an antechamber, and is usually left empty. It is said that by daring to leave it empty, it means that there is room for prosperity.


How do you enjoy the story of Osechi? I hope you have learned that Osechi is not only a gorgeous dish to be eaten at the beginning of the year, but also a traditional dish in which each dish has its own meaning and contains wishes for the new year.

In addition to Osechi, there are many other traditional Japanese New Year’s events and traditions.

Please take a look at the post below to learn more about what people do on New Year’s Day in Japan!

Hope everyone have a wonderful New Year’s Day~!