For New Year’s eve, I went to Sapporo, Hokkaido to experience a traditional Japanese celebration, not the kind that is shown on TV with the visit to the shrine and everything but the real, simple one, in front of TV at a big table full of food surrounded by friends and family. ^-^
I started the day by exploring the snowy city – there were very little people and even less cars. After walking about the center, I went up the hills to see the Olympic ski park and enjoy a nice panoramic view all the way down to the Japanese sea.
It was the first time for me to see sand machines which in Sapporo are located on every corner. If the road gets slippery, all you have to do is put your feet through the hole at the bottom of this machine and get the soles covered in sand. In Russia, we also use sand for snowy roads but instead of convenient vending sand machines, we have heavy tractors spreading the sand early each morning.
After that, I went shopping at a local fish market. Although Japan and Russia catch the same fish, we cook it different ways. I bought tons of smoked, pate-ed, marinated in vinegar and sun dried salmon, crab and herring to bring home as omiyage and that was the first time my family actually ate everything. My mom used to complain about nori, wasabi, yokan and ryokucha I always brought from Japan but this time she seemed to agree on fish. ^-^
In the evening, we celebrated the beginning of a new year by eating tasty Japanese delicacies (crabs, sashimi, seafood nabe etc.) and watching Kouhaku music battle on TV. Last time I watched that show was exactly 10 years ago. It was my first New year in Japan and at that time I was celebrating it in Kobe at my friend’s family house. I remember clearly every artist that was performing because they were announced and explained to me by my Japanese friend as if they were national heroes. The funny thing is, 10 years past and there are still the same artists performing for Kouhaku with the minor exception of Morning musume turning into AKB48. ^-^
The next morning, we had a traditional Japanese 1st of January meal called O-sechi. It is a big lacquered box that contains 3 levels of festive food, each having various meanings of luck, prosperity and health. You can read more about it here:
Level 1 – seafood and vegetables
Level 2 – seafood and meat
This level 3 was my favorite – seafood, vegetables and desert. Those little tangerines are actually egg yolks. They were amazingly delicious!
It takes a lot of time to prepare o-sechi ryori. Traditionally, they were made in advance so the women wouldn’t have to cook while others celebrate but nowadays people get tired of eating the same food for several days so poor mothers and wives are back to the kitchen the very same day. Luckily, now they can buy o-sechi and spare themselves a lot of time. ^-^
On the second of January, I once again packed my bags and took a plane back home to celebrate the New Year – Russian style. ^-^ Stay tuned!