Home > MAFF English Website Updated > WASHOKU, Traditional Dietary Cultures > Wish for health and longevity


Wish for health and longevity

Wish for health and longevity with dishes for special occasions.

For example, osechi-ryori preserves the unique culture of different regions throughout Japan.
While the content varies widely among different regions, the wish for health and longevity is expressed in every region by eating the dishes

There are special ceremonial days in the life of Japanese people. One is an annual event as New Year, and another is milestone days in a person's life such as childbirth, coming-of-age, marriage or kanreki (60th birthday), which are called rites of passage. There is one thing in common in these special days: people eat special dishes to expel evil spirits, bad luck and disasters, and wish for health and longevity.

On New Year's Day, people celebrate the start of the year by welcoming the “deity of the year” to each household. It is an important annual event that takes place only once a year. Kadomatsu, which is a decoration set at the entrance of the house, is a mark for inviting the deities. On New Year's Day, family members gather and have meals together, wishing for happiness throughout the year. Osechi-ryori dishes are served on that occasion. Osechi-ryori dishes vary widely among regions: some include a lineup of appetizers for drinking alcohol, while there are regions where only nishime (vegetables cooked with dashi) is prepared as osechi-ryori. However, it is common that the dishes express the wish to beckon fortune and ward off misfortune, while sharing the table with deities.

Ozohni (soup with mochi), also eaten on New Year's Day, was originally the most important and formal appetizer for drinking alcohol among samurais. On New Year's Day, ozohni with mochi inside and otoso (rice wine for New Year) are always served. Round-shaped mochi as used in kagamimochi symbolizes the souls of deities. It is also called “hagatame-mochi (mochi for firm teeth),” and eating kagamimochi on January 11th has a meaning of wishing for longevity with healthy teeth.

Other events for sharing the table and wishing to be able to spend every day in peace include five sekku (season-related festivals). These are January 7th (“jinjitsu”), when people eat nanakusa-gayu (rice porridge with seven spring herbs), March 3rd (“joushi”), when people eat kusamochi (sweet mochi seasoned with mugwort) that is believed to have the effect on quelling negative vibes, May 5th (“tango”), when people wish for health by eating chimaki (steamed rice wrapped in bamboo leaves) and kashiwamochi (sweet mochi wrapped with Kashiwa oak leaves), July 7th (“shichiseki”), wishing to stay disease-free by eating thin noodles called sakubei, and September 9th (“chouyou”), wishing for immortality with kikuzake (sake served with chrysanthemum petals).

As for rites of passage, sekihan (red rice), which was believed to quell negative vibes and bad luck, used to be eaten not only on celebrating occasions but also in Buddhist ceremonies such as bon festivals and in funerals.

The tradition of WASHOKU, constantly in pursuit of things good for one's body, culminated in a healthy food culture that is rarely found in other regions of the world. Strong orientation towards the wish for health and longevity lies at the heart of WASHOKU.




The content of osechi-ryori varies among different regions. The above is a sample of osechi-ryori in Tokyo. The tier of food boxes (at the front) contains the three dishes for celebration, namely kuromame (sweet cooked black soybeans), kazunoko (herring roe) and tazukuri (dried small sardines), which represent wishes for health, for the prosperity of descendants, and for good harvest, respectively. Other dishes for celebration include red-and-white (considered auspicious colors) kamaboko (minced and steamed fish), grilled shrimp representing a wish for longevity, and tataki-gobo (crushed and seasoned burdock) representing a wish for a good harvest. The content differs by region. A vinegared dish (in the small box at the left) and nishime (vegetables cooked with dashi) (in large box at rear) are also some popular dishes for osechi-ryori.


Otoso   Ozoni


Otoso, enjoyed with ozohni on New Year's Day, is served by using a sake server called choushi, three stacked-up cups, a cup stand, and a tray to put all these on. Otoso was originally a medicinal liquor made by immersing tososan, which is a blend of several types of herb, in sake or mirin (sweet rice wine).



Eating ozohni with round mochi, a symbol of the soul, inside originally meant to be given the power of deities. Above is ozohni seasoned with Saikyo miso, which is familiar in Kyoto. The characteristics of this type of ozohni are that it cooks round mochi without grilling, and contains kashiraimo (mother taro), which was considered a lucky charm from ancient times.

Okuizome   Sekihan


Okuizome is a ritual held for a child 100 days old, with a wish for being able to have no trouble eating for a lifetime. In the ritual, a menu of “one soup and three dishes,” including sea bream with its head and tail on, is served. “Stone for firm teeth,” wishing for the baby to have good teeth, is also indispensable.



Red-colored adzuki beans were believed to have the effect of quelling negative vibes and bad luck, so it was frequently used for celebration. Eating steamed glutinous rice is an old custom in Japanese culture. For instance, sekihan is served as a dish for special days, and is especially indispensable for festive occasions.



* On this page, the traditional dietary culture of Japan is expressed as WASHOKU, and dishes with such tradition are expressed as washoku.

Pictures and articles are cited from WASHOKU guidebook.

Top of Page