USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘japanese new year’

Japanese New Year’s Ozoni

KM is a third-generation Japanese-American from Los Angeles, CA. She now lives in Pasadena, CA with her husband and 18-year-old son.

KM described to me some of the basic traditions her family has for New Years Day, especially the cooking of “ozoni”:

“Ozoni is just a soup made with chicken broth, green onion, shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, chicken and mochi. My Auntie Kazuko would make it for us every year when we were growing up, and it’s always the first course of a New Year’s Day meal. All of [my mom's] siblings and my cousins would get together at [Auntie Kazuko's] house and while most of the day would be, you know, just a family gathering, we would all sit down together to eat the ozoni. It’s only cooked on New Year’s and you have to go to special Japanese markets to find the ingredients.

“Now with my siblings and kids and nieces and nephews, we get together at my sister’s place – she’s married to a Japanese man, and his mother makes the ozoni. The holiday is pretty similar to how it was for me, where everyone just gathers at someone’s house to watch football and eat food, but the making of the soup and eating it together is like one concrete tradition we do every year. I’m not sure who will keep making it after [my sister's mother-in-law] passes away though…”

My analysis:

The most interesting part of this food tradition for me is the shared background of the family members who actively carry it out – KH told me her Auntie Kazuko was most connected to their Japanese heritage, which is why she insisted on making the soup every year. Similarly, her sister’s mother-in-law is from Japan, and she is the one who facilitates the tradition. It really reveals how certain customs make it overseas when families would move to America, but also how fragile they are. KH isn’t sure anyone else in her family is motivated enough by their Japanese traditions to continue the laborious process of making this particular food. Traditional holidays tend to become more Americanized (in this case) over the years they’re observed away from their roots, and unless enough people are committed to certain customs, they can easily die out.

For more information about ozoni, see:

“Ozoni (Zoni) Recipe.” Japanese Cooking 101. 2016. Retrieved from
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Holiday Tradition/Ritual – Japan

Holiday Traditions/ Rituals

Japanese New Year

On the Japanese New Year, Dana said all the food has some kind of meaning to it. Each year, her grandmother puts together big circle trays with seven different foods on it. The black beans are supposed to bring good health for the coming year. The black seaweed brings happiness. Bamboo brings luck. As for the rest, Dana cannot remember the purpose but does recall that the other foods are supposed to clean out the eater’s systm.

For breakfast, Dana and her family make a soup called Ozonu. First they make mochi by pounding sticky rice into mounds. The broth is made with vegetables. After adding the mochi to the broth, it melts. During the rest of the day, they eat sushi and Mochiko chicken, which is fried with a batter and soy sauce.

Mochi is a big deal on Japanese New Year, because it is only to be made on three days: the 28th, the 20th, or the 31st. Because the number 29 is unlucky in Japanese culture, the mochi cannot be made on that day. The first batch of mochi is offered to their ancestors. They make a large mochi and put two smaller ones on top. On top of this, they put tangerines, with one leaf. Dana is unsure why they do this. The whole thing is left for a couple of days and then thrown out. She enjoys this holiday very much and enjoys sharing the food with her friends who don’t celebrate the Japanese New Year.

This celebration is very detail and ritual-oriented. After doing further research into the significance of the stacked mochi and orange, it seems the purpose has been lost over the years and is now done solely out of tradition. However, many of the other rituals and traditions have very distinct functions.

I like how food is used to bring people together, symbolize a good, healthy life and to make offerings to ancestors. This holiday seems very family-oriented.