Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hokkaido New Year

17 days ago, we rang in the New Year in Hokkaido, Japan's most northern island. We only made as far as Hakodate and even though it was cold and everything was closed for oshogatsu, we had a great time. On New Year's Eve, we rode the ropeway up snowy Mt. Hakodate to see one of the "top 3 night views in the world." I don't really know what that means, but it was very pretty. 

We spent the night at a Japanese onsen so that we could enjoy some natural hot spring baths in the cold snowy scenery. After we warmed up with our baths, we had our in-room dinner. And because it was New Year's, we were treated to an unholy amount of food.

This is osechi. Like most Asian cultures, the New Year is the most important holiday of them all. Japan celebrates the New Year (oshogatsu) according to the western calendar, while other countries like China, Vietnam and Korea celebrate according to the Lunar Calendar. (This year, it is on January 23rd) 

During oshogatsu, families are not supposed to cook or clean. But you still gotta eat, right? That's where osechi comes in. It's a 3-tiered bento box filled with food that can keep for 3 days without spoiling. Families order their osechi meals in early December and pick them up just before the New Year, and they don't come cheap. The contents vary and are heavy on fish and pickled veggies. Many of the contents are symbolic, such as fish roe for fertility and beans symbolizing good health. 

(yes, those are gold flakes on my salmon)

We were treated to a single tier of traditional osechi foods at the Hanabishi Hotel in Hakodate. Some of it was good and some of it was...not so good (I'm looking at you slimy thing I still can't identify). But it was a really cool way to ring in the new year, one last time in Japan. 

In addition to our bento, we also had mini-hot pot 

Fresh sashimi
Roast beef and potatoes

Hairy Crab

Miso soup

Sake and fresh fruit

What I'm trying to say is that it was a lot of food and I rang in the new year completely satiated and relaxed. If it's any indication of the things to come, I think it's going to be a good year. 

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