West Eats East
A new year again! Gee! A gift of one year older to everybody. An old proverb says time goes so fast without much accomplishment, which sounds true to me. On the New Year day and in the new month of January, let’s put such reality aside for a while and celebrate another new year with J-foods and J-drinks! Let’s hope this year we will be better off with work, money, family, friends and many ahead. Let’s not look back at what we have done last year. The New Year celebration is for that! Then, get serious about a new resolution for this year.
In the Chinese zodiac, 2017 is the year of the rooster hen or chicken. There are twelve animals to celebrate the first day of the year with God. In the old days God spread his word to animals to come to him for that. Among the ones that hastened to him, twelve animals were bestowed to the twelve zodiacal honors: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram/sheep, monkey, rooster/chicken, dog and pig/boar. They may have been common animals in our living when this idea was born. A rat was smart enough to ride on an ox’s shoulder and jumped over to be the first of the twelve. Alas there was the thirteenth. That was a cat. A rat told a cat to go to God one day after. A cat showed up on following day, and missed the opportunity. This was the beginning of a cat chasing a rat, like Tom and Jerry. This was the legend of the zodiac birth.
Everyone is born in a particular zodiac, which is often characterized by the respective zodiac. The one who was born in the year of ox, may be strong, steady but occasionally slow to react. Another who was born in the year of the dragon or tiger, particularly female, may have a distinctive character with a decisive will. And so on and so forth. It may be true, but remember, there are always exceptions. So the one who was born in this year of the rooster/chicken, tends to wake up early and announce its presence loudly without much concern with others. Though, they are cautious of a pecking order in a pen. FYI, I do not belong to this zodiac.
For the Japanese New Year celebration, rice cake and sake are the most symbolic food. Japan is often called the country of rice because rice, the highest yield crop per acreage among grains, is able to sustain a large population in a limited land. Everything in daily life appears to be geared up with rice and its farming, including tradition, work attitude and human relationships. Many Japanese are almost born with the rice farmer’s mind, which is often characterized by the behavior in mass. They have to do the same things in a farm village to assure rice growing properly. Little exception is allowed. It worked positively for corporate activities but negatively in mass hysteria. It can be said such a character has enabled Japan’s economic progress after WWII. Rice has been a source and pride of the national progress. Rice cake is made by pounding sweet rice not regular table rice in a mortor. Rice cake is common throughout Asia for daily eating and ceremonial offerings. Grilled rice cake is made into a chicken broth soup with Kamaboko fish paste or something green, which is a must dish on the New Year day table. It is also wrapped by sea-veggie Nori, or eaten after marbled with a mixture of soy flour and sugar.
Sake is the utmost significant item in the celebration, cold or warmed, or flavored with Toso herbs. It is to offer to God, and to toast together with family or relatives. Sake is a sacred alcohol drink made out of rice and almost a national drink, though its consumption has been slammed down to only several percent of the total alcohol drinks consumed. Despite the popularity of beer, sake is the center of the celebration. After sake, many go to their own favorites: beer, shochu, wine, spirits or non-alcohols.
Most of us here pay not much attention to the things on the day of New Year probably because we have had so much pleasure, food and drink at Christmas. Though, many people may watch the countdown at Times Square on TV. Time goes on as usual but the particular last 10 seconds make the whole world completely anew. Since most Japanese are not Christians, the New Year is more important. By the way, Chinese people have a different, lunar calendar to celebrate the New Year, later, maybe in February. For us, it is the time to make a resolution this year again. Eat and drink moderately, properly and wisely. Work hard to be active, prosperous and happy. Reading books/stories and saving money are my additional. How about yours?