I meant to post this at least 25 days earlier, when it was still Oshougatsu. But things happen, and you fall into the droll of routine, study hard, and things like creativity get pushed back into the recesses of your mind.
Oshougatsu, or New Year's Day, is a very important tradition for the Japanese. Christmas itself isn't that big of a holiday here. You eat KFC and your Christmas cake, maybe exchange a couple of presents. But you do send a postcard to just about everyone you know for New Year's. My old host mother had about a pile of over fifty sitting on the kitchen table, each with eloquent calligraphy offering up best wishes for the New Year.
But even more important is Osechi Ryouri, or New Year's food. Like a Christmas cake, this three layered bento box can be pre-ordered. Refrigeration often isn't necessary, as the dishes are often fermented or pickled or dried. For the next three days, the family consumes each one tier of the box. The foods themselves have special meanings, for example the black beans are for good luck in studies.
Mochizuki-san taught us how to cook and prepare many of these dishes, including "Ozoni", a special soup with rice cake.
We were also taught how to cut fishcake into auspicious shapes, for example the "pine needle" and the "rabbit" for good luck.
By far the most technically challenging was the date-maki, or rolled omelette. First, eggs had to be blended with fish cake.
Then, you had to let the mixture cook with the lid on for at least five minutes.
When it was done cooking, you had to gently slide it from the pan onto a foil-covered bamboo matt without breaking the omelette.
Then you had to roll it like sushi, clip rubber bands on the ends and let it chill for a good fifteen minutes.
Kurikinton (sweet mashed potatoes with chestnuts) was the most labor intensive. We had to force sweet potato through a sieve with only a bamboo paddle. It required some elbow grease.
We also made onigiri, or rice balls.
Some of the CIEE students had some fun with the designs.
Finally, it was time to eat.