Tag Archives: Japanese

Miso Seaweed Soup

In our family, we usually eat seaweed miso soup on New Year’s Day. I remember my mom would wake up early before everyone and would make us breakfast, no matter how tired we were from the night before. Whatever food she would make us, seaweed miso soup would always be a staple part of our breakfast on New Year’s Day. She used to tell us that drinking the soup on the first day of the year would ensure good health for all of us throughout the year and thus, would lead to prosperity. That is a recurring theme in Japanese culture, you know..actually int any Asian cultures….to link prosperity to health. Anyway, now that I am away from home, I try to keep these traditions closer to me than ever before. Last New Years, I was not able to go back home but I made sure to make the miso soup for myself. Reminded me of home.

CL is a college student studying journalism. Originally from Japan, she moved to the United States with her family when she was ten years old. She tells me that even though they don’t live in Japan anymore, her family tries their hardest to not forget their culture roots. CL told me the above piece of information in a conversation about New Year traditions that we observe at our homes.

The above is an example of a folk food that is used to bridge cultural gaps and to feel closer to a family’s cultural roots. Despite leaving the country they were born, through certain cultural motifs such as food, it can be observed that people can feel closer to their cultures and communities. It is not the miso soup that holds meaning, but the act of consuming it on a New Years day that bears cultural significance. Thus, this shows that meaning is usually generated when an individual usually links an act to a widespread significant event (here, New Years Day) and integrates it into society.

Oga no Namahage Festival

–Informant Info–

Nationality: Japanese

Age: 19

Occupation: Student

Residence: Los Angeles, California

Date of Performance/Collection: 2022

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Japanese

(Notes-The informant will be referred to as NN, the interviewer as K, and the mother as M)

Background info: NN is a 17-year-old student at a High school in Los Angeles, California. They moved here from Japan when they were 13 and remembered participating in this festival. I was told this story at their home over tea, with their mother occasionally interjecting to add detail. She will be referred to as M.

K: Ok, so uh, what’s the name of the festival, how do you know about it, and what’s the context of the performance? Like under what circumstances is it uh performed?

NN: The festival is titled Oga No Namahage, and it is a new years festival. I know about it because I grew up in the region where it was performed.

K: And what region is that?

NN: Oga city, in Akita prefecture. But it’s performed nearly uhm everywhere in Akita Prefecture.

K: Cool! So you said you just wanted to talk about one aspect, correct?

NN: Yes, the namahage visit.

K: Ok, whenever you’re ready

NN: Thank you! Its very simple. Young men, normally around your age (20) dress up as namahage, which are like…

M: Ogres or demons

NN: Yes! Those. They have…big red faces and dress up in these straw uhm…costumes that are cool because if you move slowly, then you are silent, but once they want to scare someone, they make so much noise! *Raises arm and makes whooshing sounds to emphasize how loud they are*

K: So its a scary thing?

NN: Oh yes. They dress up as namahage and sneak up on lazy children, ones who are sleeping or not paying attention at the fire and scare them so bad *laughter*. They will get you every year, they are that good at sneaking

I really loved hearing about this festival! It’s a relatively small festival and doesn’t have a whole lot of tourism surrounding it, so it stayed pretty faithful to how it’s always been done, down to stories around large fire pits. NN has also mentioned to me later on that at least at her town’s festival, technology wasn’t allowed because it spoiled the fun. I think it’s interesting how deeply ingrained Japanese folklore is with their culture, like with the namahage. This is a scary event, but also fun, so it reinforces the idea that namahage, which can seem almost comical looking from an older point of view, is scary and is meant to be feared. It allows Japanese folklore to exist in a more pure form.

Kappa in Japanese Folklore

Main Text:

KY: I’ll tell you about the kappa. It’s this, uhm— it’s basically this monster that lives in the river. The Japanese created this story of the kappa which is this monster… Its head is like a lily pad, and it just like submerges itself under water. So, if you see a lily pad in your river or something, it could be the kappa. They’re also like very hard to see. So they can be like just in like the rocks and stuff… So they’re like very scary monsters. They’re very, very scary… And they can come out at night, and take kids away… They’re really short as well, if I remember correctly… I think that like, in Japan, the reason why— it’s because rivers are dangerous, and they don’t want kids playing at rivers at night without supervision…


This was taken from a conversation with me and one of my suitemates, who is of Japanese descent, in the Cale & Irani Apartments in USC Village. He has heard of these creatures for as long as he can remember, from “before he could even speak.” He was warned of them by his parents and grandfather, who lived near a river, that he used to visit when he also lived in Japan.


We often see these folk beliefs and cautionary tales told to children, by their parents, to keep them away from danger. It makes a commentary on adult supervision since, apparently, parents are the only ones strong enough to fight back against these creatures. Stories like these are designed to scare children, make them weary of the unknown, and to keep them close to their parents. This particular belief can also reflect the societal fear that Japan has with bodies of water since it is notorious for bad weather such as storms, floods, and tsunamis.

Soba for Long Life

Description: During New Years, people would cook and eat long noodles believing it to mean having a long life.

Background: This tradition is something that the informant’s family engage in every year.


ML: My mom would cook a certain soba noodle dish on new years to signify a long life. Toshikoshi Soba I think. 

Me: Is the noodles cooked in any special way?

ML: Not anything special, it’s just cooked soba noodles, it’s kind of just a symbol and not like a ritual, it’s just a dish as in like long noodles means a long life.

Me: And your family would do that every year?

ML: Yeah it’s always on new years.

My thoughts:

Special traditions and events in the start of the new year is something that I believe to be quite universal. The practice of eating noodles for a long life is also something that is seen in other Asian traditions such as in China. In China’s case, it would also be done during birthdays, signifying that the person would live for years to come. Sometimes, people would say that eating longer noodle strands will extend your years. It’s obviously not true, but it’s a good way to signify a special occasion while trying to think positively about the future. Of course, any special occasion should be paired with good food or drink but that’s just my opinion.


Chinese Longevity Noodles – Author: Na Zhang and Guansheng Ma – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/307875115_Noodles_traditionally_and_today

Passing Ashes After Cremation

Description: After a family member is cremated, the family would pass the remains across the family chopstick to chopstick.

Background: The informant observed this in his family during funerals.


ML: Another thing I’ve noticed more is that we can’t pass food from chopstick to chopstick. Ao whenever we’re eating, and we share, she puts it on my plate. Because passing stuff from chopstick to chopstick is reserved for family remains after a cremation. I think my dad is the same way too. I think in Japan when someone dies, they’re cremated and their ashes and stuff are put into a urn and the family members pass the pieces to each other into the urn. Yeah, so then whenever I’m about to grab something out of her chopstick, my mom gives me a dirty look.

My thoughts:

This entry would be considered both a ritual tradition as well as a taboo. It is more accurate to say that it is a taboo that resulted from common practice. Rituals for the dead is not uncommon in any culture, but it is often in Asian traditions that I tend to find taboos that come from such traditions. One easy example would be the taboo of stabbing one’s chopsticks on a bowl of rice, as that is usually reserved for an offering for the dead. The association itself is plenty direct most of the time, as it’s easy to see why one would want to separate actions for the dead from ones of the living as the dead do not belong there and not many want to think about death when living their daily life. Another function of those specific rituals are also to provide some sort of closure for relatives, allowing people to finally move on after the passing of a loved one.


The expression of the old East Asian funeral art: Author: Dae-Youl Kim –