Japanese New Year; A Bean for Good Health

“Every New Year’s, everyone in the family will eat at least one, I think it’s a black bean, I don’t really know. Every one you eat is supposed to resemble one year of healthy life.”

(After this initial explanation, my informant turned to his laptop and did a quick Google search, after which he said he think the bean is kuromame, but he was still unsure. We then continued with the interview.)

Since my informant illustrated the link between one bean and one year of good health, I asked if there was any prohibition against eating a lot of beans at once so that one gets many years of good health. “You can eat a whole bunch,” he answered, “but I personally don’t like them so I just eat one.”

My informant was unaware of any symbolic significance to the bean, he just knows that he has taken part in the tradition ever since he could remember. The tradition is enacted at the family New Year’s celebration. “It’s more my close family, but it extends to second cousins and second uncles…maybe forty to fifty people, so it’s not huge, but it’s still like seven or eight families”. He assures me that every person makes sure to eat at least one bean.


Because of its similarity to New Years traditions celebrated in America, the bean my informant speaks of must have homeopathic magical properties that ensure good health for the year, in the same way champaign at New Year’s ensures wealth and a kiss ensures a good love life in the coming year. However, my informant stressed that this tradition takes place at a family gathering, which means this New Year’s celebration has familial importance. By all partaking in the tradition together, the family builds their bonds for the New Year, and their mutual belief in the powers of the bean gives them hope to look towards the next year’s celebration, where they are sure to meet again, due to the bean’s luck and good health throughout the year.