Seasonal Japanese Celebrations and Their Dishes
Japanese culture has a vibrant history, with many different customs and traditions celebrated throughout the year. Each season brings special events, dishes, and ingredients only available during a particular season. From spring cherry blossom festivals to winter hot pot dinners, there's something for everyone in Japan throughout all four seasons!
What The Culture and History Behind Japanese Rice
As one of the foundations of Japanese culture, spirituality, cuisine, and economy, you can find Japanese rice at the dinner table of every major holiday or celebration in Japan. This mighty grain has shaped Japan's landscapes, diet, and historical rituals and continues to be a part of many seasonal traditions to this day.
There are even believed to be gods that ensure the successful harvest of rice during the growing seasons. To venerate these gods, people established rituals that would also secure fruitful crops. Many of these rituals became widely-known seasonal celebrations, each accompanied by unique dishes, all of which included rice!
Popular Seasonal Celebrations and Dishes
Here are some of the centuries-old rituals and the delicious dishes that are prepared for each:
Ohshogatsu - January, New Year's Day
Celebrated in Japan on January 1st, Oshugatsu is undoubtedly one of the most widely celebrated events of the year, accompanied by some of the most lavishly elaborate dishes. On this day, you'll see families sharing dishes such as Osechi-ryori, an elegantly arranged box of preserved foods, Kagami mochi, or "mirror rice cake," and Yakizanaka, or grilled fish, symbolizing joy and happiness for the new year.
Nanakusa no Sekku - January 7th, The Festival of Seven Herbs
According to Chinese legend, January 7th is one of the five major seasonal festivals celebrating everyone's birthday, as it is known to be the day all humans were born. Also coinciding with the lunar new year, this day is celebrated with Nanakua Gayu, also known as seven-herb rice porridge. Enjoying this dish with family and friends is a ritual that ensures good health and good fortune for the year ahead. Easy on the stomach, this warm, comforting dish is a great way to reset the stomach after all the New Year's festivities.
Setsubun - February, Seasonal Division
Setsubun marks the official end of winter and the coming of spring in Japan. Ancient myths claim that Oni, or maleficent creatures or "devils," appear during this time. To ward off these evil spirits, people would throw roasted soybeans their way. Eho-maki, or fortune rolls, are another way to ensure good fortune and ward off negative energies during this time of year. Fortune rolls are sushi-style maki rolls made with seaweed, rice, and a combination of raw fish, pickled vegetables, fish roe, and other vegetables.
Momo no Sekku - March 3rd, Girls' Day
In Japan, families with young girls will celebrate Momo no Sekku, a celebration that places good intentions for their daughters for the rest of the year. On Girls' Day, families will display a Hina-Ningyo, a special ornamental doll that symbolizes their daughters' good health and safety. On this day, parents will also prepare Hishimochi, a 3-layered diamond-shaped dessert, with each layer symbolizing a specific type of protection. Other popular dishes include Hamaguri Osuimono, clam soup, and Chirashi Zushi, a bowl of sushi rice topped with fresh sashimi.
Tango no Sekku - May, Boys' Day
Japanese Children's Day, also known as Boys' Day, originated from an ancient holiday from the Nara Period (AD 710 - 794) that celebrates the well-being of boys. Although the name remains the same today, this holiday celebrates all children. Festivities include Koinobori streamers and delicious Kashiwa Mochi, a traditional Japanese rice cake filled with red bean paste. What makes this particular mochi unique is its presentation: wrapped in a gorgeous oak leaf. This is because, in Japan, oak trees symbolize prosperity.
Doyo no Ushi - July-August, The Midsummer Day of the Ox
Also known as "Unagi Day," Doyo no Ushi is a midsummer tradition primarily celebrated with Unagi or barbeque eel. Originating in the Edo period, this seasonal dish came from the belief that eating food beginning with "u" would provide relief from the summer heat. Unagi is loaded with vitamin A, B1, and omega-3 fatty acids, making it a great source of nutrition for the midsummer months. An eel rice bowl called “Una-jyu” or “Unagi-don” is very popular among Japanese people.
Jugoya - September-October, Autumn Moon Festival
Jugoya, or the Japanese Moon Festival, falls on the 15th night of the 8th month in the Japanese Lunar calendar, which typically coincides with the Harvest Full Moon. On this day, families would pay homage to the full moon by eating Tsukimi Dango, sweet rice dumplings (more like mochi) resembling a full moon. Tsukimi Dango is often eaten with amazake, a sweet Japanese rice drink. Together, this traditional dish symbolizes unity and appreciation for the end of a long harvest season.
Sekihan - Any Celebration
Sekihan, or Japanese red rice, is served at nearly any Japanese celebration. This dish consists of sticky short-grain Japanese rice cooked with azuki beans and seasoned with salt, sugar, and sake. Sekihan can be enjoyed as an everyday meal or special occasion treat. For a more festive look, add colorful vegetables such as carrots, lotus root, and burdock to the mix. Due to the red color that the adzuki beans infuse the rice with, Sekihan is believed to promote good fortune and ward off evil spirits.
Celebrate Your Seasonal Holidays with Japanese Rice
No matter what event or holiday you're celebrating, Japanese dishes are a great way to mark the occasion! From Kagami Mochi mirror rice cake for New Year to red rice Sekihan for any celebration, Japanese cuisine can provide a delicious and nutritious addition to your festivities. With all the Japanese rice options available at the rice factory New York, why not add some of these dishes to your next celebration? As a bonus, you can give your friends a quick history lesson about their origins!