Plastic fantastic New Years feasts

Over on Just Bento is a virtual shopping tour (also part 2) of bento supplies and readymade bento. Mark of CalorieLab, who took the photos and kindly allowed me to show them to you, also took these photos.


These are not extra fancy bento. These are actually osechi, the traditional assortment of feast foods eaten at New Year's in Japan.

Here's a closer look.


Looks a bit shiny and odd maybe? Of course, since these are plastic models, not the real thing. They can be ordered in advance, and the customer pays by the juu or layer. So 2 layers is 21,000 yen, and 3 layers is 26,250 yen here. (This is at the Seiyuu department store.) That comes out to about $100 a layer or so, but it's worth it for many people since it is a lot of work to make all the little bits. As a matter of fact, increasingly people don't make osechi anymore. They will make their own ozouni (mochi in soup), maybe some roast beef or something, but not the jewellike selection of osechi. Even my mother said she will be ordering most of her osechi this year. (She favors the food halls at Takashimaya incidentally.)

It's a bit sad really, but I guess that people are too busy for such elaborate cooking these days. Another problem is that the flavors of osechi, which tend to be very sweet, salty or sour (since they had to keep without refrigeration for about a week in the olden days) just don't suit modern palates that well. Kids especially tend to dislike osechi. When I was little I hated most of the things in the osechi, especially things like kobumaki (kombu seaweed wrapped around anchovies and stewed). I'd pick on it and just eat the ozouni, which I loved.

The January issue of Today's Cooking magazine (Kyou no Ryouri) does have some osechi recipes, but only a small number of them are really traditional; the other recipes are for osechi-like takes on more 'modern' and kid-friendly recipes, with colorful Western foods like smoked salmon. I have Today's Cooking issues stretching back to the 1970s, when it was my mother's cooking bible when we lived in England. When I look through the January issues, it seems like there's less and less real osechi every year. So who a few generations, real traditional osechi may die out.

Bonus: a selection of "Chamery" for Christmas.


Chamery is a soft drink packed into bottles that 'pop' like a champagne bottle when opened. It's sold as a "festive celebration drink", suitable for all ages. Here's an official page in Japanese.

In case you were wondering what Japanese people drink for Christmas (when the party budget is low). It's an abomination, but there you are.

(Thanks once more to Mark</> for the photos!)

Filed under:  japanese offbeat shopping

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How beautiful. I like the plastic displays, they look like an array of oddly shaped, shiny candies or jellies (sort of like the candies shaped like sushi you can find from time to time). Still, I can understand why the strong flavors of traditional osechi might be too much for kids. (Honestly I don't know if I would like kobumaki very much now!)

I have a ton of New Years questions for you!

Since the osechi look like sweets to me, what kind of sweets do you like to eat on New Years? Besides mochi, of course, which I guess must go unsweetened in the ozouni...

Do you plan to make any osechi yourself, this year? If not, what will you be eating on New Years?

What on earth does that "festive celebration drink" taste like?

Ouf. I'm getting excited about cooking for the holidays now!

Some of the osechi items are actually quite sweet, especially kinton, a sort of chestnut, sweet potato or white bean puree. The egg item, datemaki, which is egg with fish paste, is a bit sweet too, as is tazukuri, sort of sweet candied little dried fish (sounds odd I know but quite tasty).

The mochi in the ozouni is indeed unsweetened.

Hmm will I make osechi...probably not. I may make some kinton, and get some pink and white kamaboko... and maybe make ozouni. The big difference between new years in Japan and here mainly is that in Japan, most people get at least the 3 days after New Years day off (or even the whole week off), so you can sit around and stuff yourself if you want. But here of course work starts on the 2nd! If we were going to be feasting for 3 days making osechi might be worth it...but not really for 1 day.

The Chamery tastes like sweet soda....but then i'd rather have a Coke :)

Every year, we get a (two-layer) box of osechi from one of my dad's clients. It doesn't look as nice as the ones pictured, though. :( I tend to eat the dried fish, chestnuts, and lotus roots-- not really too fond of the other stuff.

I never liked ozouni, much to my mom's chagrin. Mochi in soup never appealed to me-- it's like eating oversoaked cotton batting to me.

My mom recently has taken to making sukiyaki every New Year's, which is a treat for the family. And she makes a point of getting kamaboko from her hometown. :)

I think that artificial food is so cool. Is there any way I could get my hands on some? I know it must be pretty expensive (I live in the United States, also).

i believe that food displays like that one are custom made. Here's a report by someone who visited a place that makes them. You can find sources for fake display food though - try googling 'fake food' or 'plastic food'! here's one place, and another.

Uhh, I'm drooling just looking at those photos =P~ (even if they are plastic!) Wow, $100 for one layer?? How many would that feed? One person?

Can you post/paste the osechi recipes from Kyou no Ryouri? Pretty please? It's like pulling teeth to get them out of anyone over here! :)

The foods look so realistic and delicious. I was hoping they were real! Osechi has many good foods in them, but it might not cater to western tastes. Though the majority of Japanese are not Catholics, Christmas is a very popular holiday there. Though the fake champagne might taste bad, it is the festive mood of the whole family coming together that matters.