Happy New Year! Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!
I am a yonsei, fourth generation Japanese Canadian, and my family’s Christmas dinner is similar to most Canadians celebrating Christmas. The turkey roasting in the oven for hours. Our feast includes turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, vegetables, and salads for supper. New Year’s Day is all about Japanese food and traditions my grandmother taught us. It actually starts on New Year’s Eve when we have to eat noodles and soup. My obaachan used to make her own noodles, but I don’t have the time or proficiency to pull that off, yet.
When people ask me why we eat noodles I would say for good luck and long life, but I don’t remember the details and my grandmother is gone so I can’t ask her. I googled the origins of the tradition and found a fascinating history.
The Japanese tradition of eating noodles probably originated in the 13th or 14th century when a temple or wealthy ruler would treat the people to noodles on the last day of the year. The tradition of eating Toshikoshi soba on New Year’s Eve became widely established during the 17th to 19th century (Edo period 1603-1868). Apparently the merchants in Edo (present-day Tokyo) developed many customs for good fortune. During this time, soba noodles (made from buckwheat grain) were the preferred noodle in the north from the Kanto region (which includes Tokyo) and udon noodles were more popular in Kyoto. Today, most of Japan uses soba noodles for this ritual although there are variations in different areas and families. Our family likes fishcake, green onion, nori, and a fried egg with our noodles.
Toshikoshi refers to the year crossing, jumping from the old year to the new one. Some say the long noodle symbolizes the year crossing. What may have appealed to the Edo merchants is that fine soba flour was once used by Japanese goldsmiths to gather up leftover gold dust and the connection to gold would be an ideal symbol of good fortune. Also, soba noodles are easily cut so they represent letting go of the old year’s troubles and regrets. Soba is also seen by some as symbolizing strength and resiliency because of the nature of the buckwheat plants to be able to bounce back after being hit by wind and rain. There are also some who attribute the long noodles to a long life.
For me, the food traditions are a way to remember my ancestors and my family. I remember watching my grandmother roll out the dough with a long wooden dowel as she made her noodles. I could smell the broth bubbling on the stove. Eating the delicious noodles and soup made me feel a deep comfort, my grandmother’s love, and that all is right in the world. I think it’s a good way to start the new year.
Food is an important way for our families to share our culture and our personal stories. It’s also a delicious way to connect with other individuals and communities. What are your memories of your obaachan’s (grandmother’s) or other family member’s contributions to your family meals? Share your stories and we may share some in a future edition of The Bulletin and on our Facebook page.
On behalf of the GVJCCA board, we wish you and your loved ones, a very happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year. 2017 is year of the rooster (tori) and in Japanese legend the rooster’s crowing awakened the sun goddess Amaterasu who left her cave and brought light to the world. I hope for more light and peace in the world, and the GVJCCA will continue our work for a just and inclusive society.
2017 is a momentous year. It will be Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation and the 75th anniversary of internment/incarceration. We, at the GVJCCA, will be working on a number of projects and events, and some in collaboration with the NAJC and other Japanese Canadian groups. Keep reading The Bulletin / Geppo and checking the gvjcca.org website for more information.
Also, this year is our 3rd annual GVJCCA Japanese Canadian Community Bowl-a-thon.
The GVJCCA Community Bowl-a-thon will take place on Sunday, February 19 at Rev’s Burnaby, 5502 Lougheed Highway. It’s the same location as last year and participants found the location very convenient next to the Holdom Skytrain station and plenty of free parking. You will receive a parking pass when you check in at noon. Rev’s also has full food and bar service so you can grab some lunch and drinks while having some fun with your team. Cost covers two hours and shoe rental: $30 per individual and $180 for a team, maximum of 6. Prizes will be awarded at 3 p.m.
The bowl-a-thon is a fundraiser, but it’s also an opportunity for members of the Japanese Canadian community and their families to come together and have some fun. We are raising funds to keep producing the high quality, monthly Bulletin magazine for the community. You can also help by collecting pledges for the GVJCCA or one of the other Japanese Canadian community groups who are participating in this community bowl-a-thon. We will have prizes for bowlers who collect the top pledges and also for the bowlers with the top scores. When we have confirmed the Japanese Canadian community groups who will be participating we will have the information along with the registration and pledge forms on the gvjcca.org website.
It is fun for the whole family. I hope to see you on February 19.
Last word to Paul Kariya who emailed me and let me know that Dr. George Iwama was the first Japanese Canadian President of a Canadian university, the University of Northern British Columbia. Thanks for the information. I had asked a few people who thought Santa Ono was the first Japanese Canadian university president which led to my speculation. Japanese Canadians have made many contributions to our country, and it’s not always recognized or known. This inspires me to think about another project to add to our list. In the meantime, the GVJCCA will continue our work to highlight the contributions of Japanese Canadians in The Bulletin / Geppo.