New Year is the single most important holiday in Japan, and special Osechi-ryōri are traditional Japanese New Year foods. Colorful Osechi-ryōri dishes are packed in layers of lacquer boxes, called jubako, which resemble bento boxes. Like bento boxes, jūbako are often kept stacked before and after use.
New Year's Day is one of the five seasonal festivals (sekku) in the old Imperial Court in Kyoto. Originally, during the first three days of the New Year, it is a taboo to use a hearth and cook meals, so women finished cooking Osechi-ryōri by New Years Eve.
Each dish and ingredient in Osechi-ryōri holds meaning. Konbu, a kind of seaweed, is associated with the word yorokobu, meaning "joy". Tazukuri, dried sardines cooked in soy sauce, literally means "rice paddy maker", as the fish were used. Historically to fertilize rice fields. It symbolizes abundant harvest. Kazunoko, translates to "numerous children" symbolizing fertility. Kuromame, black soybeans - mame also means diligence, to encourage working and livingdiligently throughout the year.
In the earlier days, Osechi-ryōri consisted mostly of Nimono, or boiled vegetables seasoned with soy sauce and sugar or Mirin. Over many generations however, the variety of foods in the Osechi-ryōri has grown, where now, there are "Westernized Osechi" containing non-traditional ingredients.