This Week in Tokyo – 5 January 2021

Welcome to the first edition of ‘This Week in Tokyo’ in 2021! This week’s edition, hosted by Mac, Founder and Lead Guide of Maction Planet, highlights some of Japan’s New Year Traditions!

Osechi: Osechi ryori has its origins in the Heian era (794-1185). The term refers to the traditional dishes served in lacquer bento boxes called jubako in the New Year period. Shared with all family and friends, each item carries big symbolism, especially given the number of syllables and sounds which carry multiple meanings in Japanese.

Nahoko, my collaborator for our online cooking classes, kindly shared some of her osechi with me. Some of the foods she included were:

Kuromame (black beans): In Taoism, the colour black protects against evil. Combined with the fact that mame means good health and strength, they represent a desire to be in good health for the year.

Tatsukuri/Gomame (dried, sweetened baby sardines): Tatuskuri means rice farming. In bygone times, farmers used dried sardines as a fertilizer for the rice paddies. Gomame means ‘50,000 grains of rice’, as this fertilizer was very effective! Together they represent the desire for plenty.

Kuwai (arrowhead tubers): The bud which comes out from the arrowhead tuber is called megaderu (芽が出る) in Japanese. 目が出る (megaderu) has the same pronunciation but means ‘success in business’. Check out more details about the class, then email info@mactionplanet.com to sign up!

Hatsuhinode: Hatsuhinode is the Japanese word for watching the first sunrise of the year. It is believed to bring good luck.  Sunrise in the Greater Tokyo area is around 06:50, so no need to wake up at the crack of dawn to enjoy this ritual…

Do you see what I did there?

Yayu Wang, photographer extraordinaire and Tea Ceremony expert, snapped this beautiful shot from Rinko Park, in the Minato Mirai area of Yokohama.

Ox Ema Votive Tablet

Hatsumode: Hatsumode is the first shrine or temple visit of the year. Prayers and wishes for the new year are offered. Many religious sites in Japan will be packed during the first three days of the year. Despite the flexibility of timing in when the visit is done, many choose to go immediately after midnight, although this year that was discouraged at many major shrines and temples for obvious reasons.

Hatsumode is a popular time for people to write ema, votive tablets, so some shrines release special versions featuring that year’s zodiac animal. In this case, it’s the year of the Ox, Here’s an especially pretty one I spotted at Hatonomori Hachimangu on the way to…

The New National Stadium: OK, this is not technically a New Year’s tradition, but long-term friends of mine, and many of my tour guests, know that I just need something to happen once to become a tradition. On 4 January my beloved football team, FC Tokyo, played in the final of the Levain Cup at the Olympic Stadium! It was my first to visit the stadium, and I wanted to share my experience with the all of you, given that the world missed out on the chance to see the stadium in action during the Olympics and Paralympics which were due to be held last summer in Tokyo.

A socially -distanced, outdoor, mask-wearing, no-chanting and highly sanitised crowd watched an epic final. What was the result? You’ll have to watch the video to find out.

Disney New Year: For obvious reasons the 2021 The New Year’s Program at Tokyo Disney Resort was dramatically reduced, with only New Year’s Greetings and some limited edition merchandise to celebrate the occasion. Luckily we can relive last year’s celebrations forever thanks to this video I made of New Year’s Day 2020 at Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea.

Maction Planet runs bespoke Private Tours and Experiences in Tokyo, and beyond. To book yours, or to purchase a gift card, contact us at info@mactionplanet.com

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