Osechi ryori is what most people in Japan eat on New Year’s Day and the following couple of days. It is a mixture of beautifully presented foods served in a special box called Jubako, which is like a multiple tiered bento box that contains many different dishes that can feed the whole family.
Osechi ryori was originally a way for housewives (and their families) to survive the first several days of the New Year, when stores throughout Japan were closed. The foods that make up osechi can be prepared in advance and then sit out in a cool area for a few days without spoiling.
Nowadays the special boxes can be purchased from stores and can cost anywhere from under 10,000Yen all the way up to and over $10,000US, these high end boxes are made by famous chefs or restaurants and high end department stores and orders are taken months in advance.
Typically Osechi is served in 3 tiers. The top tier normally contains small appetizers to go with drinks like sake, such as Ikura (salmon roe), Datemaki (decorative fish cakes) and Kuri Kinton(Candied chestnuts).
The second contains small grilled and pickled dishes such as Ebi (shrimp), butter shoyu scallops and su renkon (pickled lotus root)
Then the third contains simmered dishes like karaage chicken and taco (octopus).
This is not a strict rule as different regions have their own items and dishes. The dishes are traditionally served in odd numbers and are separated using the bigger items or bamboo leaves. Each of the foods and the food colours symbolize different meanings such as joy, good wealth, good luck and abundant harvest.
The word osechi can also mean “a significant period.” Thus, osechi is very important to consume on the Japanese New Year to give thanks for the significant period of the New Year. Any food left uneaten in an osechi box is considered bad luck, so be sure to eat up!