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A Yonsei's Reflections...

on a New Year and New Beginnings

Shinnen Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu! Happy New Year!

It’s a new year and a time for new beginnings and opportunities. This is the first of my new column series. I’ve never tried formally writing something like this before, so we’ll see how it goes. I’ll be reflecting on a variety of topics—cultural, historical, or just miscellaneous. Expect to see something from me here every other month (if it turns out well, or if I have more I want to expound upon, maybe I’ll write a few extra). Hopefully, you’ll find them enjoyable, or at least interesting. Let me know what you think.

For me, it looks like this will be a good year…the start of a new chapter in life. 2007 is Year of the Boar/Pig. It’s my year, which means I’m beginning a new 12-year cycle. I’m not knowledgeable about Asian zodiac astrology, but I have looked up the typical character traits of the Pig, and most of the characteristics seem to align with me.

I began the year in a new home. My husband and I are now homeowners for the first time in our lives. Expanding from a one-bedroom, one-bathroom rented apartment to a two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom townhouse that we own opens up so many exciting possibilities. I’m a pack-rat at heart (“mottainai” has been ingrained in me from birth). It’s difficult to throw anything away if I think it can somehow still be of some use (I still have a scratch paper pile that I started in elementary school). But moving provides two opportunities for purging—when you’re packing, and then when you’re unpacking and settling in. Out with the old…in with the new. It was exhilarating to go settle in to our new home, evaluate, then go shopping for new furniture and accessories to complete it. We still have some little things, but it’s mostly done now.

For me, New Year’s is a time of family and food. My family has its Oshogatsu traditions, and it doesn’t feel quite right when they’re not followed. It feels like something is missing. I guess there’s something comforting about traditions, especially when they’re designed to bring good luck and health through the year. And so, almost every New Year’s Eve of my life has been spent with my mother’s family ringing in the New Year. We mingle and catch up with each other, reminisce, and play games while the Kohaku Utagassen is on the television in the background. Somewhere around 11pm, we help my Auntie prepare the glasses and soba noodles. Just before midnight, we switch it over to ABC for the final countdown. We gather in the living room and count down the seconds together. When the Times Square ball reaches the bottom, we go around the room clinking our glasses and giving hugs, making sure not to miss anyone. Calls are placed to distant relatives and the phone is passed around the room as the toshikoshi soba noodles are eaten.

The following morning, we wake early to eat my mother’s ozoni. I really love my mom’s ozoni. It’s one of those meals I look forward to each year. This New Year’s Day, my parents came over to our new house (even though it’s not really a house, I like referring to it as a “house” rather than a condo. It just feels better). My mother pre-prepared the ingredients first, then they came over where she finished it all up in our new kitchen. I was so excited to “christen” the New Year together in our new home.

Later, at lunchtime, we went over to my father’s side New Year’s party. It’s a really large family, so going through the New Year’s greetings is not for the faint of heart. I almost feel sorry for the newcomers. It can be pretty overwhelming, particularly if you come late and everyone’s already there. You go through room after room of relatives hugging and greeting people with “Happy New Year!” (although, said boisterously with a Japanese accent, it sounds more like “Hoppy New Year!”). Next, each adult must drink some sake from special communal cups (we have a choice of three sizes—small, medium, and large). I always try to get the smallest size. I don’t drink alcohol normally…just once a year at New Year’s I drink the little bit of sake. Then, it’s mingling and catching up with relatives, and LOTS of food. Sushi, tatsukuri, kuromame, and many more colorful dishes arrive and are added to the table. We take turns selecting morsels and filling our plates before finding somewhere to sit down and eat.

This year, I made a photographic Oshogatsu food diary. My relatives thought it strange as I stood above each dish carefully taking digital pictures, but I explained it was for a project I was working on. If you’d like to see the results, I’ve uploaded and pulled them together into a Nikkei Album collection: My Oshogatsu 2007. Until next time, I hope you enjoy!

© 2007 Vicky K. Murakami-Tsuda

family food holidays new year oshogatsu ozoni traditions

About this series

Vicky Murakami-Tsuda is the Communications Production Manager for the Japanese American National Museum. She is a “self-proclaimed” yonsei from Southern California who comes from a large extended family who loves working at JANM (especially Discover Nikkei), eating good food, spending time with family, playing on Facebook, reading, and used to be an artist who explored Japanese American culture and history through her artwork when she had more time and energy. This column includes various reflections on her life and the world around her.