The True Meaning Behind Osechi Foods

In Japan, the New Year’s celebration, or shogatsu, is the biggest holiday of the year. It is when people gather with friends and family to count down the end of the year and welcome in the new one. To celebrate the new year properly, there is a special cuisine called osechi, which has remained the staple food for this holiday since the Heian period (794–1185 AD). This arrangement of small dishes is the most important meal of the year because each dish is said to bring a different benefit to you in the year to come. Here are the hidden meanings behind each dish.


These black soybeans are a relatively simple food, but they actually have a few deeper meanings. It is said that they allow you to be clear of any bad spirits. Additionally, the black color is meant to represent one working in the sun until you are tanned to a dark color, symbolizing the will to work diligently in the coming year.


Sea bream, or tai, is a popular fish in general, but especially at this time of year. The meaning of celebration associated with it is due to its Japanese name. “Tai” is close to the phrase “medetai” which means joyous or happy. It’s a perfect fish plate for any party you may organize or attend.


The gold-colored herring roe is the food for anyone who is looking forward to starting a family in the future. The Japanese name kazunoko uses the kanji kazu (数) which means “number” and ko (子) which means “child.” For this reason, herring roe is said to bring fertility and to bless people with many children.


The boiled fish paste kamaboko is most likely a food you have eaten before in Japan, as it shows up in many dishes like ramen or udon. For the osechi dish, it symbolizes multiple things. Firstly, the red and white colors are festive colors that are used in special occasions. The colors themselves also hold special meanings. Red wards off evil spirits and white symbolizes purity. The round shape of kamaboko also resembles the sunrise, and welcomes the first new day of the year. With all these benefits, this is a good food to cover all the bases for good fortune in 2022–plus it’s delicious.


Datemaki is a rolled egg mixed with fish cake that makes it both sweeter and fluffier. The shape is what gives this dish its deeper meaning. As a rolled food, it resembles scrolls that were traditionally used in Japan for documents, literature, and paintings. This food is said to be imbued with the wish for deeper knowledge and learning.


Kinton is written with the kanji for gold (金) and association (団), so it’s no surprise that this food symbolizes wealth. Made of sweet chestnuts, this dish is great for anyone with a sweet tooth or who is just looking for a prosperous 2022. It is very common for most osechi boxes, so it should not be very difficult to find.


Another food you will find in practically every osechi set is shrimp. As with the kamaboko, the red color is said to fend off bad spirits. However, shrimp at this time of year is more commonly associated with longevity. The curled shape and long antennae resemble the hunched posture and long beard of an old man. This dish brings wishes of a long life ahead as you start the new year.

These dishes hold a special meaning in many ways, but ultimately they are meant for people to gather and enjoy time together as they enter a new year. Whether you are looking for wealth or to fend off bad spirits, the best way to enjoy these foods is with the people most important to you.

From GoConnect, have a happy New Year’s and we will see you in 2022!


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