2022: Year of the Tiger

明けましておめでとうございます。

Happy New Year! It’s that time of year again for mochi-tsuki (making mochi). Here we’ve got Miyagino-beya and in that third video we see Enho’s lightning fast work pounding the mochi there… Kiwotsuke, ne.

Miyagino mochi-tsuki

This year I wanted to offer sumo fans a peek into some of the other New Years’ customs in Japan. These are the same customs that our favorite wrestlers adhere to, so this will provide a bit of context to some of the social media content that the heya share this time of year.

During my old English teaching days, this was a very quiet time of year when most shops were closed and Japanese spent time with family and visited temples and shrines. After getting married, we celebrated with my wife’s family at her aunt’s house…and I ate way too much. The atmosphere reminded me of Thanksgiving – without the Lions’ or Cowboys’ games on TV. Since there are specific dishes for specific days, I’ll break this down by New Years’ Eve and New Years’ Day.

New Years’ Eve

Osouji

New Years’ Eve is usually spent cleaning. Think of大掃除 (Osouji) as “spring cleaning,” but done on New Years’ Eve to get the new year off on the right foot. We know that sumo wrestlers, particularly the lower rankers, regularly clean the stable. Osouji focuses on the periodic, difficult tasks rather than just the weekly or monthly routine. For example, we’ve got a chandelier in our living room which is a bear to clean and this is when we move the biggest, heaviest furniture to get underneath. The kids always laugh when we find beans that were thrown the previous February. Here, we see Asakayama-beya’s deep cleaning.

Companies also perform their osouji in preparation for the new year and do their annual deep cleaning. In the old days, the head of the company was thrown in the air (douage), similar to how the gyoji is tossed at the end of a tournament. This was to shake off the bad spirits and start off fresh. According to this article, in the sumo world oyakata were tossed but they switched to using lighter gyoji.

Toshikoshi soba

Andy’s Toshikoshi Udon

年越しそば (toshikoshi soba) is a special version of soba noodles eaten on New Years’ eve. The term itself uses the same “koshi” from the terms makekoshi and kachikoshi we are familiar with as sumo fans. As we see here from the pictures of Naruto-beya, it features tempura shrimp and kakiage. Kakiage, itself, is a mix of ingredients like vegetables, shrimp, scallops, etc., all mixed together with tempura batter and deep fried. As I mentioned on Twitter, our household swapped out the soba since we prefer udon. Toshikoshi udon may be a bit non-canon, or 邪道 (jyado), but it’s better in my humble opinion.

For a look at the soba version, here’s what Naruto-beya ate. It looks like their kakiage had broccoli, shrimp, carrots and onions.

Naruto Toshikoshi Soba

New Years’ Day

Ozouni

Ozouni is a traditional soup eaten on New Years’ Day. Its main focus is generally the inclusion of mochi, Shodai’s daikon, carrots and chicken but there’s quite a bit of regional variation in the ingredients. In the Kanto region of Tokyo, you’re generally using a rectangular block of mochi and a soy-sauce base. In the Kansai region around Osaka, they usually use a round ball of mochi and include a white miso base to the soup. Jason (of Jason’s Sumo Channel), may be more familiar with a red-bean version in the Izumo region and Bruce may have come across oysters in his ozouni in western Japan. My wife is from Kanto, so we had a soy-base with a rectangular block of mochi, with no daikon because I’m not a big fan of its rather weak tachiai. I’m eager to try the miso version, to be honest.

Osechi

Osechi is the biggest culinary tradition of this Oshogatsu New Year festival. It’s usually served in a three-tiered lacquer-ware set. While you may do fried turkey with sweet potato casserole and pecan (PEE-CAN) pie or cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, your Thanksgiving mix will vary. Osechi is similar in Japan where there are some very common ingredients but each family will often have their own variations.

Sushi, shrimp and other seafood is a central theme with various vegetables, pickles, nimono along side. We usually have a lot of the same components every year, like fish cake (kamaboko), black beans, grilled chicken with carrots, shiitake, and gobo. This year, though, instead of our usual sampling of shrimp and sushi, we had chirashi-zushi with octopus.

Toyonoshima’s delicious-looking osechi is pictured on the right.

*A little-known fact is that Andy’s middle name is Jado.

8 thoughts on “2022: Year of the Tiger

  1. And a big 明けましておめでとう御座います。
    今年も宜しくお願い申し上げます to everyone here

  2. Thanks, Andy! My New Year meal was very American…to be more specific…more along the lines of Southern cuisine (with a whole of soul), but nevertheless healthy the way I prepare it!

    Anyhow, there’s a place here in my neck of Salisbury, North Carolina that I visit and from time to time (it is called Osaka Japanese Cuisine), and I do get the delicious tasty bento meals and sushi that are offered. It may not be on the level of the wonderful and authentic Japanese home meals that you and family experience everyday — but it is as close as I can get to eating something originally from Japan here in the U.S without having to go to a bigger city!

    I hope yours, Team Tachiai.org, the blog readers had a Safe and Sound start to 2022! Here’s to sumo — and GOD…I hope it is thrilling for all the right reasons, and let’s leave all the foolishness in the previous year!

    Again, I am very grateful for all that you, Bruce, and the rest of the team do!! Don’t stop, keep going!!

  3. Alongside the bashos, Asakayama Heya’s regular deep cleaning ticks off the months through the calendar year. I use his posts as a reminder for my own house cleaning regimen – though I don’t clean my hood and vents as regularly as Asakayama oyakata would prefer. Maybe my trapezius will be as bulked up as Kaisho’s if I did. Looking forward to the 9th!

    Happy New Year, Team Taichiai!

  4. As always, Andy, thanks for the great, informative posts – plus pictures! Love Tachiai’s posts, helps me learn so much about my favorite sport!

    Best Wishes to All of Team Tachiai and All of the followers and posters for a GRRREAT YEAR OF THE TIGER!

Leave a Reply to Andy Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.