Osechi Ryori – Japanese New Year’s Cuisine

お節料理 Osechi ryori, colorful food in lacquer boxes, is a traditional cuisine, which is eaten in the first three days of the new year. Its origins can be traced back to about 400 years ago. It started as simple food to serve the god of the Shinto shrines and to wish for a peaceful year. It developed its appearance over time and now it looks like food of a jewelry box.

Osechi consists of three or five layers of lacquer boxes. The top includes a lot of dish called 祝儀肴 shūgi sakana, literally celebratory dishes for saké. The second includes 酢の物 sunomono, vinegared dishes, the third is 焼き物 yakimono, grilled dishes. The forth includes 煮物 nimono, simmered dishes. And the bottom is filled with leftovers from the other layers.

Osechi is made with many ingredients and takes several days to prepare. Most foods are usually richly seasoned with soy sauce, sugar and vinegar. In olden days, stores were closed the first few days of each year. By having richly seasoned food, the osechi would keep families fed until the shops opened once again. In modern days most shops close only for January 1st. But even now we have the luxury of 24-hour convenience stores, that even carry a nice selection of saké, beer, and shochu. I got a call at the last minute to bring some saké to our new year’s party. I stopped by 7-11 on the way and look what I found. I couldn’t have been happier, and all three came to just about 3,000 JPY. These are lovely sakes that would round out any meal.

7-11 sake

Masumi junmaishu, Kikuhime junmaishu, Sawanoi Okutama Yūsuijikomi

Essential ingredients for osechi are black beans, anchovies, and herring roe.

They have a deep connection in the old Japanese agricultural system.

  • Anchovies were used to be the most cheapest and richest fertilizer for farms, so the dish from dried anchovy is called 田作りtazukuri, which literally means make rich fields.
  • Black beans, 黒豆 kuro-mame in Japanese, mame can be translated to beans but also as a word play, can be translated as work hard.
  • Herring roe, 数の子 kazunoko, in Japanese, have millions of eggs in a sack, so that we believe it is good for fertility.

Rich fields and hard workers make for an abundant harvest, and it can feed a lot of babies and make more power to create rich country.

The colors are well considered using red and white for happiness, gold for a fortune, and green from decorative leaves for many wishes include long life, change of generations, keeping away evil, etc.

Osechi is not just a new year cuisine, but it also includes many wishes. So it is very important for us to cook and eat them with our hearts full of hope. However, this tradition is kind of disappearing. These days, fewer families make osechi by themselves but will order it from department stores. At the end of year, you can find long queues for osechi at department stores selling sets made by famous restaurants. It is interesting to note that osechi nowadays is not limited to Japanese cuisine, can be also made by French, Italian, or Chinese restaurants, a big departure from the past. Osechi at department stores start at about 10,000 JPY (about $100 USD) and can run up to more than 100,000 JPY ($1,000 USD).

Last year while Shinji was in culinary school he made osechi using Tsuji recipes. He wanted to challenge himself once more and spent six days in total for shopping and cooking. It is a long process that starts with getting all of the ingredients. Japanese supermarkets stock up on many of these key ingredients starting in December. Following are photos of what he made.

2016 Osechi Shugi Sakana

sunomono (vinegared dishes) clockwise from top left:

生寿司 kizushi – vinegared and cured in kombu fish, it is covered with a shaved piece of shiraita kombu

  • 真鰯 ma-iwashi – sardines
  • 本皮剥 hon-kawahagi – filefish
  • 赤甘鯛 aka-amadai – tilefish
  • 真鯖 ma-saba – Pacific mackerel

tako – octopus

チョロギ chorogi – Chinese artichoke

なます namasu – vinegared kintoki ninjin (Kyoto carrot), daikon, persimmons, and yuzu

がり gari – pickled ginger

叩き牛蒡 tataki gobō – burdock root with sesame, sugar, and soy sauce

なます胡麻和え namasu goma-ae – vinegared kintoki ninjin (Kyoto carrot), daikon, persimmons, yuzu, and mitsuba in a sesame miso dressing presented in a yuzu cup

奉書巻き hōsho maki – smoked salmon and vinegared turnip tied with mitsuba stalks

蓮根 renkon – pickled lotus root

2016 Osechi yakimono

yakimono (grilled dishes) clockwise from top left:

天然海老 tennen ebi – wild Australian tiger shrimp

牛八幡巻き gyū yawata-maki – beef wrapped around burdock root

松風 matsukaze – chicken meatloaf garnished with white poppy seeds

きんかん玉子 kinkan tamago – egg yolk marinated in miso and mirin

甘鯛塩焼き amadai shio-yaki – salted and grilled tilefish

のし梅 noshi-ume – apricot jelly

いくら ikura – salmon roe in candied kumquat

鰤西京焼き buri Saikyō-yaki – Saikyō miso marinated and grilled yellowtail

ふき fuki – butterbur stems simmered in dashi

2016 Osechi nimono

nimono (simmered dishes) clockwise from top left corner:

竹の子 takenoko – bamboo shoots

椎茸とすり身 shiitake to surimi – shiitake mushroom stuffed with fish paste

焼き豚 yaki-buta – pork grilled and simmered in sweet soy sauce

あん肝 ankimo – monkfish liver simmered in dashi

薩摩芋 Satsumaimo – candied sweet potatoes

里芋 satoimo – taro root simmered in dashi

くわい kuwai – arrowhead colored with kuchinashi no mi (gardenia seeds)

真鱈の卵 madara no tamago – Pacific cod roe simmered in dashi, sugar, and soy sauce and garnished with julienned ginger

金時人参 kintoki ninjin – red carrot from Kyoto

さやいんげん saya-ingen – snap peas

awabi – abalone simmered in a sweet soy broth

2016 Osechi sweets

祝儀肴 shūgi sakana (celebratory dishes) clockwise from top left:

伊達巻 datemaki – Japanese omelet made with fish paste

海老と豆の佃煮 ebi to mame no Tsukudani – shrimp and beans cooked in a sweet syrup (gift from a friend)

黒豆 kuromame – sweetened Tamba black beans garnished with gold (Tamba in Kyoto is famous for black soybeans)

いくら ikura – salmon roe in sweetened kumquat cups

数の子 kazunoko – herring roe marinated in dashi and coated with katsuobushi powder

手作り tazukuri – dried baby anchovies candied in a sweet soy sauce

子持ち鮎佃煮 komochi ayu Tsukudani – sweetfish rich with roe candied is a sweet soy sauce (gift from a friend)

栗金団 kuri kinton – sweet potatoes and sweetened chestnuts colored with kuchinashi no mi (gardenia seeds)

紅白蒲鉾 kōhaku kamaboko – red and white fish cake made from croaker (Kagosei is the producer)

鰊昆布巻き nishin kobumakikombu wrapped around herring and tied with kampyō (note that the name of the dish is kobumaki, not kombumaki)

2016 Osechi full course

This is the full spread. Shinji also made sashimi platters to round out the osechi. This was also served with ozōni, soup with mochi and saké.

We hope that 2016 is the year we finally get our cooking school up and running. We have been very busy with our food tours for Food Sake Tokyo. Best wishes to our friends who follow this blog. We hope to meet many of you this year.

Osechi Ryori at Depachika おせち料理

Homemade Osechi Ryori

Homemade Osechi Ryori

Osechi ryori is food made to eat the first days of the New Year. The photo above is of osechi ryori I made two years ago (I made most of it, I am still not confident to make kuromame).

Here is a list of just some of the popular items in osechi ryori:

Kazunoko (herring roe) – tiny yellow fish eggs. Like the tobiko 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.

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

Datemaki looks like the tamagoyaki (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.

This time of year all depachika will sell a variety of osechi ryori that can be ordered ahead of time. Some are simple bento boxes with just the basics. Famous ryotei will make a limited number of stacked boxes filled with premium ingredients. Some of these can go for hundreds of dollars. This photo below is Takashimaya’s Tokusen Wafu Osechi featuring items from famous purveyors from throughout Japan.

Takashimaya Tokusen

Takashimaya Tokusen

This year Takashimaya is also featuring osechi ryori from famous ryokan in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima. Click here to see photos of these sets.
If you are in Tokyo, check out the osechi ryori displays, if not in the depachika then on the event floor (usually the top floor) of the department store. If you are keen on putting together your own osechi ryori then check out the depachika for ingredients or components to assemble your own.
Here are some of what you will find:
Suzuhiro Kamaboko

Suzuhiro Kamaboko

Suzuhiro has been making kamaboko for 170 years in Odawara, Kanagawa. When I worked at Takashimaya the Suzuhiro shop was directly in front of the sake shop. It was swamped this time of year with customers picking up kamaboko.

Nihonbashi Kanmo Kuromame

Nihonbashi Kanmo Kuromame

Kuromame for me is one of the hardest items to make well and so is better bought. This kuromame is from Nihonbashi Kanmo, a shop famous for its hanpen.

Shibamata Marujin Kurikinton

Shibamata Marujin Kurikinton

Kurikinton is always the first component to go in our house. It is hard to resist the chestnuts. Marujin is in the historic shitamachi district of Shibamata.

If you are picking up osechi ryori, be sure to pick up a bottle of sake.

Osechi Ryori – Japanese New Year’s Day Cuisine おせち料理


Homemade osechi ryori

I made this osechi ryori set the first year I was married for my Japanese husband’s family. It took about a week in total (not all day but using parts of each day) of menu planning, shopping, and assembling each dish. Only the kamaboko and black beans were purchased.

Top left box: datémaki egg and fish cake rolled omelet, kamaboko (fish cakes), black beans, tazukuri or gomamé, kuri kinton (chestnuts in a sweet potato mash).

Top right box: nimono of chicken, carrots, renkon, gobo, konnyaku, and pea pods.

Bottom box: kazunoko (herring roe), namasu (pickled julienned carrots & daikon), sesame dressed gobo, kuwai, kobumaki (herring wrapped in kombu), and pickled renkon.

This article first appeared in Metropolis magazine.

Trying to find somewhere open on and after January 1, when the New Year holidays have shut doors all around Japan, can be trying. Hence the tradition of osechi ryori, or seasonal food, dishes targeted at providing sustenance over the laidback days at home. Most can be prepared ahead of time, lasting for days when kept in a cool environment.

Like everything else in Japan, osechi ryori can be bought packaged exquisitely in deluxe boxes called jubako. At department stores such as Takashimaya, late October sees the spectacle of the first day of pre-order, when lined-up customers stampede inside to snap up the coveted limited-edition boxes. These tend to include offerings from Michelin-grade and other award-winning chefs, top-class hotels, and famous ryotei (luxurious Japanese restaurants)—and can fetch up to ¥200,000 per box. For those without a six-figure salary however, local supermarkets and conbini also sell—more affordable—box sets. Some mix in Chinese and Western elements, while others highlight regional cuisine.

Every year has its trends, and 2012 is no different. Look out for a proliferation of low-calorie options, and “yawaraka osechi”— soft foods for elderly customers.


  • Tazukuri—Candied dried sardines, formerly used as fertilizer in rice paddies, hence their other name gomame (“50,000 grains of rice”)
  • Kazunoko—Herring roe simmered in soy and dashi broth, symbolizing fertility
  • Kuromame—Simmered sweet black beans, a pun on the word “mame” for diligence and hard work in the upcoming year
  • Kohaku namasu—Pickled, red Kyoto carrots and strips of white daikon make up the celebratory colors of red and white
  • Kamaboko—Steamed fish cakes, also in the nationalistic colors
  • Kuri kinton—Mashed sweet potato with sweet chestnut, the kanji is a play on prosperity
  • Yude ebi—Boiled shrimp, whose bent backs refer to having a long life (check out some elderly on the bus for a visual explanation)
  • Kobumaki—Kelp, often wrapped around herring or salmon. A play on the word “yorokobu,” for happiness in the home
  • Tai—Sea bream; a play on the congratulatory greeting “omedetai
  • Sato imo—Taro root, symbolizing a great number of descendents, from the way the little potato-like vegetables proliferate
  • Renkon—Lotus root, the holes of which allow us to see clearly into our future
  • Daidai—Bitter orange, whose name is a homonym for future generations

Look out for spice packets for steeping in sake to make o-toso. The spice pack looks like a tea bag and is filled with herbs including cinnamon and dried sansho berries, and produces a delicious drink for New Year’s Day, thought to stave off illness during the winter season.