Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation and Meaning

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series O-shogatsu Ryori

Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation and Meaning 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け

Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け
At Kichisen, the master and students work in the cold through the night like Santa’s workshop getting Japanese New Year’s Osechi ready to send via express chilled delivery to arrive at homes all over Japan on New Year’s Eve day. Kichisen’s osechi is exquisite and as it is a meal to be shared with God, it comes in a breathtaking white lacquer box.

Kichisen’s Signature White Lacquer Osechi Box 白重
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け
The green hollyhock leaf motif on the boxes comes from the neighboring Shimogamo Shrine.

The Meaning and Symbols of Osechi Ryori

Kichisen’s osechi ryori contains 41 kinds of food. Here we introduce 13 of the representative dishes and explain some of the meaning and metaphor.

Osechi is hozonshoku, or preserved food. Historically it was prepared in advance so that the women of the family could have several days off from cooking, it is also very similar to how Japanese ate in centuries past. The dishes in osechi ryori each have a meaning related to health and happiness in the new year. Puns and plays on words and Chinese characters are common. Like the taste of the food, the symbols and metaphors are rather quant and from a different era, they remain largely unchanged today.

Representative Osechi Dishes and Their Meanings
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け

1. Bodara 棒鱈: Eat well
Bodara is dried cod (tara) slow simmered in soy sauce. Tarafuku means to have an rich and abundant dietary life. People eat bodara wishing to eat well in the new year.

2. Iseebi Shioyu 伊勢海老塩湯: Health and long life
Salt boiled lobster. After lobster has been boiled in salt water the meat is pulled apart by hand into delicate threads. It is said to look like the white hair of the grandparents of the family. People eat this hoping to live in health well into old age.

3. Kazunoko 数の子: Many descendants
Kazunoko, herring egg sac, holds an enormous number of eggs and people eat this hoping to have many descendants.

4. Tazukuri 田作り: Bountiful harvests
Tazukuri, literally ‘making rice fields’ is dried baby sardines that have been simmered in soy sauce. In the Edo period, dried baby sardines were used as fertilizer to enrich the soil and increase the harvest.

5. Kinkan Amani 金柑甘煮: Auspiciousness and wealth
Kinkan amani is sweet, simmered kumquat. Kumquat is called kinkan in Japanese. The Chinese characters for kinkan are 金柑, 金冠, or ‘golden crown’ has the same phonetic reading. Japanese of old seem to have loved these kinds of puns.

6. Tataki Gobo 叩牛蒡: Increase good fortune, stability in life
With cooking, the ends of burdock split, people wish their luck to split and multiply. Burdock has deep roots that afford stability.

7. Karasumi Kinpaku Serohan Tsutsumi 唐墨金箔セロハン包み: Promotion, progress in life
Karasumi is the highest quality chinmi in Japan. It is made of the bora fish egg sac. This fish has different names during it’s growth stages, so its name changes as it grows up, so people eats hoping to progress in life.

8. Hirame Ryuhimaki 鮃龍飛巻: Happiness and joy
Flounder wrapped with simmered kelp. Kelp is called kombu, or kobu in Japanese. Kobu is a play on the word yorokobu, which means happiness and joy.

9. Shin Takenoko Fukumeni  新筍子含煮: Prosperity and growth
Bamboo grows very fast, so people eat this hoping for their family’s prosperity and growth to be like that of bamboo.

10. Budo Mame 葡萄豆: Diligence
These beans are black and from ancient times people believed that black has talismanic power. Mame, ‘bean’ in Japanese,  written with different characters means ‘diligent’. People eat this dish wishing to live a ‘beanly’ new year. (Beanly: Miwa made up this word, it was too great to edit. Everyone have a ‘beanly’ 2009!)

11. Matsukasa Kuwai 松笠慈姑: Auspiciousness
The kuwai bulb produces a large sprout, and this is a symbol of growth and development. The bulb is cut into the shape of a pine cone, the pine tree, in Japanese culture is a majestic and auspicious symbol.

12. Kurumaebi Tsuyayu 車海老艶湯: Longevity
Shrimp have long whiskers and their backs are curved, they are associated with elder people. People eat shrimp hoping to live a long life.

13. Ayu Komb Maki 鮎昆布巻き: Happiness
From ancient times ayu, or sweetfish was known as fish that brings happiness, the kombu, kelp wrapping is also a symbol of happiness.

Representative Osechi
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け
From left; cod, lobster threads, herring roe, sardines, kumquat and burdock root.

Representative Osechi: Flounder with Ginger Wrapped in Kelp
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け

Representative Osechi: Black Beans
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け

Osechi Detail: Shoyu Simmered Cod, Bodara
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け
After two weeks of soaking to reconstitute the dried cod, at Kichisen this dish is cooked for 2 days straight.

Osechi Detail: Salt Simmered Lobster Threads
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け
This dish hardly tastes of salt.

Osechi Detail: Herring Eggs, Kazukono
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け

Osechi Detail: Karasumi with Gold Leaf Wrapped in Cellophane
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け
If you are interested in chinmi, seek out karasumi when you visit Japan, it is more cheese-like than fish in taste.

Moritsuke, Literally To Set Out

Osechi Moritsuke, or ‘serving up beautifully’, starts at midnight on December 30. The staff of Kichisen works through the night filling beautiful white lacquer boxes with the 41 dishes that had been prepared over the last few days New Year’s cuisine. For cleanliness, everyone is dressed in what look like biohazard gear. The heat was turned off and it was 2°C indoors.

Osechi Moritsuke: Filling the Boxes

Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け
Notice the large photos of the various arrangements for quick reference.

Osechi Moritsuke: Filling the Boxes
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け

Osechi Moritsuke: Filling the Boxes
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け

Osechi Moritsuke: Filling the Boxes
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け
This is fish is called mutsu and has been marinaded in miso and then grilled — heavenly.

Osechi Moritsuke: Chestnuts
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け
The yellow color is natural and achieved by simmering with gardenia seeds.

Osechi Moritsuke: Shrimp
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け

Osechi Moritsuke: Bamboo Shoots
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け

Osechi Moritsuke: Bamboo Shoots
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け

Osechi Moritsuke: Candied Yuzu Peel
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け

The Final Product: Three Layers of Exquisite Hozonshoku

Osechi Box: Bottom
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け

Osechi Box: Middle
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け

Osechi Box: Top
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け

Osechi Box
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け

Osechi Box: The Finished Product, Ready for Boxing and Shipping
Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation 京都吉泉 おせち料理の盛り付け

15 Responses to “Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation and Meaning”

  1. Great series! So the burning question is: did you get to taste it?

  2. kat says:

    what an interesting look at behind the scenes!

  3. Peko-P says:

    Hello Marc, Ah ha ha. Yes, we did get a taste. And, it was quite different from other osechi. Not a lot of sugar, soy sauce and salt in order to let the natural taste of the ingredients shine through. Some may say that the taste of some of the dishes was a bit too light. It is kind of a meditative experience eating it as you need to single pointedly focus on the natural flavors. It’s New Year’s, but this is definitely not party food. A number of the dishes were strong in taste too though, but that is still the taste of the ingredients; baby sardines, karasumi, etc.

    Hi kat, Ah, yes. To say the least. They dressed Miwa and I in spacesuits too. My feet got so cold in the kitchen that I was afraid I would be unable to walk. But, I lived to tell about it. Ha ha.

  4. veron says:

    Oh my goodness, looks like a clean-room in a bio-hazard facility. I love Japanese food – flavor is incomparable . Everything looks amazing!

  5. My, how fascinating. And look at that packaging. So interesting to read what goes on behind the scenes.

  6. Peko-P says:

    Hi Veron, Yeah, it was great fun getting in bio-hazard gear, just to take some piks!

  7. Peko-P says:

    Hello Anne,

    Welcome to KyotoFoodie! I just glanced at your site just now, will come back.

    Yes, it was a real privilege to get an intimate and uncontrived look at what goes into making something like this!

  8. Mora says:

    What a splendid post! This was a rare treat to view the master osechi team at work. I believe you mentioned in a previous post that this osechi is $1,500 USD. With the top-quality ingredients and amount of hand work that is required, they must barely break-even. Thanks for withstanding the cold to get such terrific photos.

  9. Ashley-Jade says:

    I wish I had known about this before the new year!
    It would of been something I researched and tried out at the beginning of 09!
    Does anybody know of anywhere in the united states that follows this tradition?

  10. Peko-P says:

    Hello Ashley-Jade, I was thinking about this a lot the last few days, if I were in the US how could I make osechi? I wonder if you could even get half the necessary ingredients in the US. If you live by the coast, in a big city, I suppose you can get more. Where I am from, out on the edge of the prairie, I am quite sure that we couldn’t get half. One of the things that I hope KyotoFoodie does is to inspire people abroad to start to develop these traditions there. There is so many wonderful tastes in Japan, many are healthy, and a lot are not as destructive to the environment as a beef based diet.

  11. Peko-P says:

    Oh, Mora, I missed your comment. Sorry.

    I thought a bit about that too. I imagine that the box itself is quite expensive, to start with. The ingredients super premium, however large amounts are not used. Certainly a lot of labor goes into making and preparing it.

    I am glad you enjoy this article. It makes loosing the feeling in my feet worthwhile!

  12. Ashley-Jade says:

    Hey peko,
    Well your blog certainly did inspire me to start a new tradition. I decided I am going to start my own adaptation of this every new year, I hope it is something that could be carried on for generations.
    There are so many different and amazing tastes in Japan. I hope to visit again soon

    xoxo

  13. Peko-P says:

    Hello Ashley-Jade,

    Wow!! I will join you in this tradition when I return to my native land. New Year’s in the US isn’t very interesting, as compared to Christmas or Shogatsu. If I can help you out with recipes, etc, please let me know.

    Mr Tanigawa asked what kind of comments came in regarding his osechi. We are going to translate yours and give it to him tomorrow night (I have been ordered over to photograph cutting up a maguro tuna, or something like that).

  14. [...] Kyoto Wholesale Food Market Osechi: Shopping for Osechi Vegetables at Kyoto Wholesale Food Market Kichisen Osechi: Midnight Final Preparation and Meaning Kichisen Kaiseki: Japanese New Year Shogatsu [...]

  15. meté alpay says:

    execellent work..
    I’m from Turkey;and did work with Japonese people(JGC) in Algeria.
    and discovered how talented Japonese Chefs are..and would like to learn the “OSHECHİ” preperation and style..and implement it to Turkish popular and Gourmet food..
    may be you may recommend some books or school…
    many thanks
    Arigato kazayumas

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