Last Day of the Year 年暮れ

Today I experienced for the first time preparing osechi ryôri, traditional Japanese New Year’s dishes. There was a lot to make, so we stayed busy, but we really had a nice time making food together. I got a feeling of what many Japanese families experience at this time of year. Here Somemaru makes me feel like a member of his family, so it was all thoroughly enjoyable. I took a lot of pictures since this was all a first for me. I’ll share some of them below.

Despite being busy today, Somemaru was kind to make time for an interesting lecture on all of the various influences on rakugo, be they sekkyô (Buddhist sermons), kabuki, hayari uta (popular songs), etc. He also went into the differences between Kamigata rakugo and its counterpart in Tokyo. He gave a great example in the story Kuchi ire ya. This is originally a Kamigata story. Apparently when it was taken to Tokyo it was changed drastically. Rather, much was cut from the original story. In the Kamigata version, Kuchi ireya is a story that takes place largely in an Osaka shipping merchant’s house. It is a story intended for the merchant society of Osaka. Tokyo, unlike Osaka, it historically a city made up of artisans and samurai, so the Tokyo storyteller(s) completely cut the section that deals with the shipping house (over half of the original story).  The title was changed too. In Tokyo this story is called Hikkoshi no yume (Dream about Moving).

We ate for dinner what most Japanese families traditionally eat on New Year’s Eve: toshikoshi soba. Translated literally this means “seeing-out-the-old-year buckwheat noodles.” When I asked Somemaru why Japanese eat this dish at this time of year, he told me a story about how when Japanese make gold leaf in the traditional style they sprinkle buckwheat flour in between the gold and the boards used to smash it. Apparently this allows the artisans to easily separate the final product from the tool. At some point in history it thus became a tradition to eat soba on New Year’s Eve, in hopes of becoming rich (okane mochi [lit. possessing gold]) in the New Year. Somemaru said there is other lore that explains various reasons for enjoying toshikoshi soba, but I like this story. I hope we all become rich in 2011!





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