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January 2005

New Year’s Day in a Japanese Home in Hawai`i

By Patricia Yoneda Wong

The custom of preparing food for the New Year is to welcome all the well-wishers who call on relatives and friends on New Year's Day. I read somewhere that this custom of visiting came about because the more good wishes you receive on the 1st of the year, the better your year will be.  Before the 1st, all households embarked on intensive cleaning, because if you waited until the 1st to sweep, you would be sweeping out good luck.   All cooking was done before midnight as no one cooked on the 1st.  This goes back to a tradition among Asians dictating that nothing be cut on New Year's Day so as not to sever the continuity of good luck in the New Year.   

Mom would begin preparations for the up-coming big day by starting to cook in the early morning hours of the 31st.  She'd cook all day preparing such foods as nishime; namasu; tempura; fried chicken; shoyu pork; sashimi (which was always a must at our household as Dad liked it so much); macaroni or potato salad; a platter made up of  beautifully cut red and green kamaboko, kanten (agar-agar gelatin), yokan (a sweet bean  paste), sliced oranges, and bunches of grapes.  All of this would be ready for the many guests who would come by the house all the next day, some arriving as early as 8:00AM and many staying into the evening.  There was a lot of nibbling and imbibing and Dad's sports cronies would re-play games that they had participated in during days gone by. As a child, I wondered how many times they'd relive those past moments of glory, as I'd hear them year after year after year and also wondered how they could remember all the details.  Now that I'm older and wiser, I know that the stories were embellished a lot especially after a few bottles of brew.

As a tribute to Mom, I share the following recipes since I continue to prepare these two dishes for family especially when members return from Seattle. 

(Family members from Seattle confirm that two of the favorite reasons to return to Hilo for the holidays are Pat’s nishime and namasu. Not only are these dishes so `ono, but they also bring back fond memories of Grandma and Grandpa Yoneda. -Rochelle)


2 pkg of nishime kombu ( wash,  tie, soak; reserve 1 c. of the water)
8 shiitake mushrooms ( wash and soak for about 2 hours; reserve 1/2 c. of the water; slice)
1 lb. or lean pork, thinly sliced
6 aburage ( to remove most of the oil, immerse in boil ing water, drain, squeeze, cut into 1" pcs.)
1 1/2c. of water that was reserved from soaking the kombu & the shiitake  
2/3 c. shoyu
1/3 c. sugar
2 pkg of saimin dashi (I use the no msg. S&S brand)
4 bags of frozen nishime vegetables

Fry pork in a little oil until browned.

Add kombu, shiitake, and water from soaking.

Add aburage, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.

Add shoyu, sugar, and dashi, cook for 5 minutes (more water may be added if needed).

Add frozen nishime vegetables and cook till vegetables are done (in order to prevent vegetables from breaking up, toss instead of stirring). 

NOTE: Vary amounts of shoyu and sugar according to your individual tastes.

           Best made a few hours before serving so that flavors of vegetables blend.


  Mixed Vegetable Namasu

1c. sugar
2 T. rock salt
1/2 c. vinegar
1 c. water

Boil till salt is dissolved.

Cut the following vegetables into thin 2 inch strips:

1 daikon
1 cucumber
1 carrot

Cut the following into small thin pieces:

1 cauliflower
1 green pepper
2 stalks of celery
1 round onion

Lay vegetables in a large bowl, with the crispier vegetables on the bottom.

Pour hot brine over and let sit for 15 minutes

Mix till well blended

Store in refrigerator. 

NOTE:  Keeps well for 2-3 days, refrigerated.  


Photo courtesy of Karen Maedo

Another Japanese New Year tradition is mochi-pounding. This one is in Hilo with mochi fans from all ethnic backgrounds. After the pounding and rolling, everyone gets a stash of mochi which is usually consumed before the end of the day.

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