For Japanese, NEW YEAR is one of the most important celebrations of the year, a festive occasion. Traditionally the house must be cleaned of the clutter and dust of the past year to start the New Year afresh. Preparation of food for New Year’s occupies much of the time with traditional dishes symbolic of good health and wealth and giving thanks for the past and expressing hope for a greater, happier new year.
My mother starts the preparations right after Christmas, getting the house ready for New Year’s day. Relatives and friends drop by all day on New Year’s day and feast on all the traditional Japanese foods and an eclectic assortment of other cuisines. Football games on tv play in the background, the fireplace full-on blazing and the house fills with laughter and voices.
MOCHI is a special kind of steamed rice, pounded and shaped into small, round buns. KAGAMI MOCHI, a symbolic Japanese presentation in every home displays a leaf-stemmed mandarin orange atop double stacked mochi rice cakes. It’s overall meaning is one of hope for a brighter and happier New Year. The kelp embellishment is a symbol of joy because the word is found in “yorokobu” (to be glad). The mandarin orange means “generation to generation” and its color symbolizes a prosperous future.
My mother makes a couple of different kinds of sushi as well. MAKI-SUSHI shown here. I paint while she works on the table in front of me. First she puts a beautiful shiny blue-black sheet of seaweed onto a bamboo mat. (I use these kind of mats for storing my paintbrushes). Next hot fluffy rice with a mixture of vinegar & rice wine is spread with a large wooden flat spoon. Then 5 or 7 cooked items of: carrots, shiitake mushrooms, spinach, cooked egg, “kampio”-dried squash, eel, and dried shrimp are layered like a multi-colored ribbon onto the rice. She then rolls the whole kaboodle with the aid of the bamboo mat. Somehow the “food ribbon” is perfectly centered in the rice roll.
Now, the best part is about to happen. Sometimes the sushi logs are wrapped in waxed paper and ready themselves to be cut neatly with a very sharp knife into these perfect “tires”. When one is standing nearby, the “end cuts” don’t make it on to beautiful vintage Japanese china platters. They’re delicious!!!
Back to the story of the “kagami mochi” (shown above). The origin of the kagami mochi offering is based on Amerasu-omikami’s (sun-goddess) hiding in the cave of Ama-no-Iwato. With the sun-goddess in hiding, the world became dark and prayers for her reappearance were made to a mirror, which symbolized the goddess. The kagami mochi represents the mirror and is a symbol of hope for a bright and happy New Year. So, TO MY DEAR FRIENDS IN ALL THE WORLD, HAPPY NEW YEAR, and loads of PROSPERITY as well.
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