Category Archives: CULTURE

Isobe-yaki (Baked mochi wrapped in Nori seaweed)

Mochi is one of the typical foods served during new year’s holidays. Still in many areas, they make mochi at the end of the previous year and use it as offerings to gods, eat it as zoni (special soup for the new year) etc. After new year’s holidays, lots of mochi tend to be left, and there are many mochi recipes. Among them, my favorite way to enjoy mochi is “isobe-yaki (or isobe-maki)” which is one of the most traditonal and popular recipes.

It’s quite simple. Just bake mochi in the oven till it gets soft and swollen, dip it in soy sauce and wrap it with nori seaweed.

Hatsumode: New year’s visit to a shrine

We went to Akasaka Hikawa shrine last weekend as hatsumode (new year’s visit to a shrine). This shrine is where we held our wedding ceremony.  Though located in the busy area of Tokyo, it’s very calm and we love it.

Torii, shrine gate.


Temizuya (or chozuya) to wash hands and mouth for purification.


The gate of the shrine was decorated with two big pine branches.

Although it was already January 10th, the shrine was crowded.

After praying and getting ofuda (amulets) and omamori (good luck charms), we drew omikuji (randome fortunes). My luck this year was “Chukichi (middle blessing)”. Well, it’s not bad! I liked the advice written there.

Some people whose omikuji’s result was not good tie it to a branch of trees in the shrine precinct. We kept ours with us.

Amazingly, ume blossoms, a herald of spring were blooming already.


New year’s soup in the Amami Islands

My husband and I were spending new year’s holidays at his parent’s home in Okinoerabu island, one of the Amami islands located between Kagoshima and Okinawa. These islands have unique cultures. When I was married, I was shocked to know how it was different from where I had grown, and he must have felt the same way too. It’s one of such differences that they don’t eat osechi in new year’s holidays. Instead, they have their own style of new year’s dishes called sangon-ryori (三献料理). According to some books and websites, it consists of three dishes. The first one is soup. Next sashimi follows (at his parent’s home, after this soup, grilled chicken and macaloni salad were served instead of sashimi). At last, different soup from the first dish (it depends on the areas and homes – at his place, miso soup with chicken and a wax gourda white gourd) is served.

This picture is the first soup my mother-in-law made. In clear soup, five or seven (considered to be lucky numbers) different ingredients are to be added.

Ingredients: broth (water, dried kelp, dried shiitake, dried bonito, salt and light colored soy sauce), round shaped mochi, boiled shrimps, cooked chicken (flavored with soy sauce and sugar), kamaboko (fish cake), boiled eggs and mitsuba.


  1. Make broth. Add dried kelp and dried shiitake in cold water and cook, take out the kelp and shiitake before the water is fully boiled. At the same time add dried bonito, turn off the heat and leave it for about 10 minutes. Strain the stock. *If you make one litter broth, use 10cm dried kelp, 5 pieces of dried shiitake, 50g dried bonito. Adjust the amount of salt and light colored soy sauce as you like.)
  2. Cook shiitake and chicken. Boil them in water flavored with soy sauce and sugar.
  3. Peel, clean shrimps and boil.
  4. Make boiled eggs and cut them in halves.
  5. Slice kamaboko.
  6. Prepare mitsuba. Cut and make a knot in the middle.
  7. Boil mochi.
  8. Put mochi in the bottom of the bowl and place the ingredients prepared in the processes (2)-(6). Then gently pour the broth.

Happy New Year 2016

Happy New Year!

As this is my first post this year, I would like to introduce some of the Japanese customs during the New Year’s holidays.

Japanese new year holidays are comparable to Christmas holidays in Western countries. Usually people spend their time with their families, relatives and friends, having special dishes and visit shrines.

In most areas, people eat buckwheat noodles on new year’s eve to wish longevity. January 1st, 2nd and 3rd are called ‘sanganich’. Below, you can find the pictures of special new year’s dishes called ‘osechi’. Traditionally these dishes are prepared by the end of December to welcome the new year’s god (toshi-gami) as well as to enable housewives to relax during these holidays. These dishes are served to the family members, relatives and the guests visiting the houses.

Osechi slightly differ from family to family, region to region. This is the osechi of my parents’.


First box

  • Upper left: Kuri-kinton (mashed sweet potatoes with sweetened chestnuts) – wishing luck with money
  • Right to kuri-kinton: Kuromame (sweetened black beans) -wishing health / diligence
  • Right to kuromame: Konbu-maki (konbu rolls) – wishing longevity
  • Upper right: Nibuta (boiled pork)
  • Middle right: Kamaboko (fish cake)
  • Bottom right: Date-maki (rolled omlet) – one of the most representative dishes for osechi
  • Bottom left: Kinpira-gobo (burdock root and carrot)

Second box


  • Upper left: Kazunoko (herring roe) – praying for the prosperity of descendants
  • Upper right: Ikura (salmon roe)
  • Middle right: Tazukuri (dried sardines) – praying for a good harvest
  • Bottom: Namasu (daikon and carrot salad)

Third box

Nishime (vegetables and chicken stewed in a soy-flavored broth) – representing good relationship among family members.

Before eating osechi, toso (herb flavored sake) is served. Toso herb bags are available at drug stores before the new year’s holidays. 

Making toso – soak herb bag and sugar (or mirin) in sake and leave over night. 

After eating osechi, special soup with mochi called ‘zoni’ is served. In the Kanto region, we eat square mochi in a trasparent soup with chicken and vegetables.

Winter solstice in Japan (w/ pumpkin dessert recipe)

Today is the winter solstice. What do you do on this day in your contries? In Japan, there are two practices.

One is to take a “yuzu-bath” – putting several yuzu fruits in a bath, which is said to prevent cold and flu.


Another practice is to eat food which names include the sound of “n” to bring “un (luck)” – namely, nankin (kabocha = pumpkin), undon (udon= noodle), renkon (lotus root), ninjin (carrot), kinkan (Kumquat), ginnan (ginkgo nut ) and kanten (agar). Among them, the representative one is pumpkin. It is said that, in the old days when it wasn’t so easy to secure food in winter, they kept pumpkins they grew in summer and start eating them on this day.

So today, I made kabochazenzai (sweet bean soup recipe with pumpkin). Here’s how to.

Ingredients: pumpkin, red beans, sugar (60% of red beans: please adjust the amount as you like. I prefer less sweetened beans but usually red beans:sugar =1:1.) , a pinch of salt.


  1. Make anko (sweet bean paste). Wash beans, add them and cold water in a pod. Once it’s boiled, throw away hot water. Add cold water (4 times the amount of the weight of beans) in the pod again. Simmer for an hour. When the beans become soft enough, flavor with sugar and add a pinch of salt. *If it becomes too thick while cooking, add extra water.
  2. Cut the pumpkin into bite-sizes. Microwave (or steam) them till soft.
  3. Serve in a bowl.


Tori-no-ichi (Fair of rooster), year-end event at shrines to welcome the new year

Tori-no-ichi, which literally means “fair of rooster”, is an annual event held at particular shrines (Otori-jinja shrines are famous) mainly in and around Tokyo, to express appreciation to the deity for the past year and to welcome the new year. In Tokyo, it’s usually held on the days of rooster on zodiac calendar in November, but in the suberbs, there are lots of tori-no-Ichi in December.

In the precincts, rake-shaped charms called “kakkome” are sold. Decorative ones are popular among business owners as they are believed to invite good luck. They are often decorated in small restautrants, bars and shops.

After visiting shrines, it’s fun to look around the stalls selling candy and snacks.

Free Bonsai Symposium in Tokyo in February 2016

For those who love bonsai and Japanese traditional cultures, I found an interesting event to share with you – Japan International BONSAI Symposium 2016. It’s free of charge, and will be held on February 11, 2016. What I found the most intriguing is that there will be a Kyogen act, which is a traditional comic and mime play. Simultaneous interpretation service will be provided. Find more details on their website.

Website: Japan International BONSAI Symposium 2016 (English)