To the Japanese
the first day of the New Year
is the most important and auspicious. It symbolizes the year to come and the day should be full of joy and without stress, conflict or anger. In times past no work was to be done by anyone; this includes cleaning, washing dishes and other household tasks.
Osechi-ryori is the traditional Japanese food prepared to celebrate the New Years. Traditionally the meals are prepared ahead of time, supposedly so that the mother of the house can share in the joys of oshogatsu without spending all her time in the kitchen. However many Japanese now purchase Osechi-ryori meals neatly packed in a jubako, a 3 to 5-tiered lunch box. Most items are prepared in such a way that they can be stored without refrigeration for the up to four days the festivities usually last.
A real jubako set, comes with three to five layers of shallow boxes in black or vermilion lacquer decorated with gilt patterns ranging from natural elements to modern abstracts, and are passed down from generation to generation much like fancy china services are passed down in Western culture. A new set of jubako can set you back up to $2000.
While there is a great deal of variation in different parts of Japan typical foods included in an Osechi-ryori meal are:
Kazunoko (herring roe) symbolizes prosperity for one's descendents because this delicacy consists of many eggs.
Kuromame (black boiled beans) symbolizes being hardworking or industrious.
Gomame (small dried sardines) symbolizes a bumper crop or rich harvest.
Kobumaki (rolled seaweed) symbolizes pleasure or delight.
Ebi (prawn) symbolizes a wish for long life.