Folk Celebration/Superstition – Los Angeles, California

Japanese New Year Food Tradition

Dana’s family makes and eats the Japanese food, mochi (a pounded sticky rice cake that is molded into a ball like shape), on the 28th, 30th, and 31st of December to bring luck.  On the 1st of January, they have a meal of Ozonu, a vegetable soup, with mochi.  When they make the first batch of mochi for the year, they take three balls of the mochi and stack them on top of each other to make a snowman.  On top of the snowman they put a tangerine with one leaf and place the snowman in front of pictures of their ancestors.

The informant noted that mochi was not eaten on the 29th because in Japanese culture the number 29 is believed to be bad luck.  The snowman ritual is to honor their ancestors, as well as, bring good luck for the New Year.

I think it’s interesting how food oriented these New Years traditions are.  I think that in representing the ancestors with food, and eating good food on the first of January reflects how they want the rest of the year to go.  If they eat well going into the New Year, then they will be well fed for the rest of the year.  Perhaps, the offer of the tangerine to the ancestors represents a hope for growth and life in the new year, and in early days may have been offered to gain favor for good crops that year.

See also:

Kawamoto, Fumi.  “Folk beliefs among Japanese in the Los Angeles Area.”  Western Folklore.  Vol 21.  No 1.  January 1962.  Page 24.