Another New Year’s Day has come and gone. If you’re a longtime reader you may be wondering why this site, which is dedicated (for the most part) to the subject of Japanese cooking, doesn’t have a lot of - well, barely any - osechi ryouri (お節料理） or traditional New Year’s feast recipes, or done a serious feature about osechi. One excuse is that for various reasons, I’ve never actually been in Japan for New Years for quite a long time. The last time I was with even part of my family for New Years was in New York in 2003 or something, when my mother was still living there. She invited over some of the chefs from her restaurant, who took over her kitchen and made what they liked - platters of sashimi, a couple of lobsters, and a huge rib roast from Lobel’s. There might have been a little bit of osechi stuff besides, but it got overwhelmed by all the expensive protein. That, and the abundant sake and beer. Another excuse is that assembling the osechi ingredients and making everything is really a lot of work. Assembling the ingredients in Japan is okay - you can just mailorder everything if it comes down to it - but elsewhere, it gets a bit tough.
But those are really just…excuses. My main reason for never really featuring osechi is…I just don’t like most of the food that goes into osechi that much. I love ozouni  and other (o)mochi dishes , and there are some things I do like, like the namasu (carrot and daikon relish/salad)  that I featured recently over on Just Bento. But quite a few of other things are mostly too sweet, too salty, or just - really old fashioned, and not in a good way.
Osechi ryouri is supposed to be made before New Year’s Day dawns, and to last for days without refrigeration during the 7-day New Years period of feasting and rest. The original reason for this period of rest or non-cooking was supposed to be to appease the fire god, Kohjin, who might get pissed if one made fires so early in the year or something. Then in later years, this period of non-cooking was ostensibly to give the housewife a rest - though since she has to spend hours and days making tons of food in advance, you have to wonder how much rest she actually got.
In any case, the need for the food to keep for several days during the non-cooking period accounts for the heavy use of preserving ingredients like sugar, salt and vinegar in osechi ryouri. Most osechi ryouri items are also really time consuming and fiddly to make, and nowadays almost no one in Japan makes everything in an osechi. Some people just order complete ready-to-serve sets; department stores and restaurants start taking orders as early as September. (See Plastic Fantastic New Year’s Feasts .) Others, like my mother, make most of it and just buy things that are too difficult. As for me - I don’t mind making things that are fiddly and time consuming if the end results taste good enough to warrant it. But osechi? Not so much.
Anyway, I asked my mother to take pictures of her osechi this year so that I could show you all what goes in there. She or my aunt made everything except for the kamaboko and kazunoko. She put some of her osechi into a gorgeous 2-tier magewappa (bent wood) box rather than the usual fake-lacquerware plastic box. (The multi-layered box or juubako itself doesn’t have a long history, but it’s also considered to be bring good luck, since you are layering or multiflying good things, symbolically.) Everything has a symbolic, lucky meaning, as with all festive Japanese food. Note that my mom and aunt grew up in the Kanto region, in Saitama prefecture which is next to Tokyo, so this is a fairly typical Kanto-region osechi spread. If your mother/grandmother/aunt/wife/in-laws do things differently it’s probably because of regional variances.
Here’s the first layer.
Starting from top:
Going over to the left side:
Here’s another layer.
Again starting from the top right and going clockwise:
Here’s the spread at my mother’s table on New Year’s Day, taken by my sister Mayumi with her cellphone. She’s put out the rest of the osechi foods on plates. There’s also some namasu  and mochi with kinako as well as ozouni.
The assortment on my mother’s table is pretty traditional, but nowadays it’s quite common to have some sashimi, slices of roast beef and so on with a small amount of osechi just for luck. Kids in particular tend to not like osechi ryouri. Luckily for my mother, both my niece and nephew love traditional Japanese food. My nephew Lyoh reportedly ate kinako mochi and who knows how much ozouni.
Perhaps, if I manage to make it to Japan for next New Year’s Day, I’ll tackle some osechi ryouri myself. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this look at how people eat, or at least used to it, on the most important feast day in Japan!