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YumeTwins Kawaii Culture BlogOsechi Ryori: Cute and Tasty Food to Celebrate the New Year!

Osechi Ryori: Cute and Tasty Food to Celebrate the New Year!

By Sophia Wasylinko
December 15, 2023
A lacquer box of osechi food.

2023 is almost over, and the New Year is approaching! What better way to celebrate than with osechi ryori? These foods are perfect for welcoming 2024, with their mix of flavors and colorful aesthetic.

Plus, there are special osechi made for people with a sweet tooth and a man’s best friend. Let’s learn more about these foods and traditions. Maybe you’ll be inspired to try osechi ryori this New Year’s Day!

What is osechi ryori? 

Osechi ryori is the traditional Japanese New Year’s Day meal. It used to consist only of nimono (boiled vegetables), but now it includes sweet, pickled, and salted foods. These dishes are kept in special lacquer boxes called jūbako with two or three tiers, sometimes more. If you’re not cooking the meal yourself, you can buy them ready-made, like bento boxes.

Five pieces of Japanese osechi food on a small palte.
Osehci is traditional New Year’s food from Japan. Image via Shutterstock

People stack these boxes, placing the heaviest food at the bottom and progressing to the lightest on top. The bottom box is kept empty for the gods’ blessings. Then, people eat the food from the top box to the bottom. Jūbako symbolizes all the happiness and good luck piling up in a year, and eating this meal is believed to guarantee to receive them!

What is the history behind osechi ryori? 

The osechi ryori returns to the Nara Period (710-794). These meals were food offerings to the gods during the changing seasons. By the Heian Period (794-1185), they’d become so luxurious that only the nobility hosted them. It wasn’t until the Edo Period (1603-1868) that everyone was eating osechi.

Two lacquer boxes of Japanese New Year's food.
Osechi food ranges from the savory to sweet! Image via Shutterstock

No cooking or hard work was done on the first three days of the New Year. Why? Well, people believed that the sounds of cooking would disturb the gods. And the women of the household needed a rest. 

There are other traditional Japanese New Year foods and drinks. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, people eat toshikoshi soba (year-crossing soba) to leave the regrets of the Old Year behind. They also drink otoso, a spiced sake, on New Year’s Day for good health and long life. And the first food they eat in the New Year is ozoni, which we’ll explain briefly.

What kinds of food are there in Japan during New Year’s? 

Many osechi ryori dishes have different ingredients and cooking methods depending on the prefecture. Here are the most common foods with their meanings. 

Kazunoko (herring roe) represents a big family with many children. Kuromame (black soybeans) are eaten for good health, while tazukuri (田 作 り, dried sardines in a soy sauce glaze) represent a good harvest. Sardines were once used as fertilizer in the rice fields.

A diamond shaped osechi box of food.
People make osechi so they can rest on New Year’s! Image via Shutterstock

There’s also the classic datemaki (伊達巻), a rolled sweet omelet mixed with shrimp or fish paste, eaten for wisdom and success in studies. On the sweeter side, kuri kinton (mashed chestnuts and sweet potato) is believed to bring success and wealth. Additionally, daidai (bitter orange), which decorates kagami mochi, is also consumed by children for good luck.

Tai (salt-grilled sea bream) and su renkon (lotus root) represent good luck, while tataki gobo (pounded burdock root) symbolizes a stable home and family. Finally, ozoni (mochi rice cake) is eaten for good fortune in the coming year. Some regions use miso soup, while others use clear broth. Some places use boiled round mochi, while others use grilled mochi squares. 

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What New Year’s dishes are there for sweets lovers?

As mentioned, osechi ryori foods are usually preserved, boiled, or dried. But you can also get osechi ryori made entirely from sweet ingredients! Ginza Cozy Corner sells “Sweets Osechi,” boxes with tiny cakes copying traditional New Year’s dishes.

Sweets Osechi from Ginza Cozy Corner.
Ginza Cozy Corner ihas amazing sweets for the season! Image via Grapee Japan

Started back in 2011, these desserts are meant to be eaten after dinner. The bakery aims to put smiles on people’s faces with its cute designs and sweet flavors. Toppings and fillings include fruit, whipped cream, jelly, and chocolate

Sweets Osechi comes in two cake sets: a 9-piece option (2700 yen, $19 USD) and a 12-piece option (3500 yen, $24 USD). Not to mention, some cakes are in both boxes: a white chocolate whipped cream tart with the New Year’s zodiac sign, a matcha New Year roll, and a kagami mochi tart with whipped cream cheese. Reservations are made in-store, and the cake sets are sold during the New Year weekend. Don’t wait to order—they sell out very quickly!

Osechi ryori for dogs 

Maybe you don’t live close to family, but all you have with you is a fluffy dog. You want to celebrate the New Year without making it sick from the food. Well, dog owners, we’ve got you covered, too!

A box of pet-friendly osechi from Pet Family Co.
This food is safe for dogs to eat! Image via Japan Today

Pet Family Co. and pet-friendly restaurant Ushisuke sell dog-friendly osechi ryori. Inside the boxes, dogs can find roast beef tongue, a fish cake cooked like datemaki, mashed sweet potato, and soba jelly. All ingredients are safe for canines to eat, nutritious, and delicious.

The Wanchan Osechi box costs 1628 yen ($11 USD) and is also available for pickup in-store. You can also pre-order at Ushisuke’s website until the end of December. Do you have a favorite osechi food? Have you bought a Sweets Osechi or Wanchan Osechi box? Tell us in the comments below. And Happy New Year to all our readers from YumeTwins!

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