Saturday, December 31, 2005

Holiday Celebration in Tokyo

For Japan, December is a very busy month. This celebration time is called Shiwasu or 'the end of all things'. It's a time for Japanese to resolve their debts and meet obligations incurred in the past twelve months. Somewhat akinto our 'new year resolutions' it is a time to 'wipe the slate clean'. In this nation of Buddhists and Shintoists, the time of renewal is a fundamental belief, and the beginning new year is extremely meaningful - the most joyous holiday of all.

The celebrations begin the 29th of December and go on for a full week. Gifts and greeting cards are exchanged on the first day. Government offices are closed and there is a holiday rush to family homes.

December 31 is Omisoka 'the last grand day'. Favorite dining includes toshi-koshi soba, or New Year's noodles, which are associated with a long life.

On New Year's eve at the stroke of midnight, every temple bell in Japan tolls 108 times to symbolize the clearing away of the 108 human sins.

On New Year's Day and for three days after, celebrants visit temples and shrines across the country. Asakusa Kannon Temple and its bazaar is one of most revered sites. The temple, founded in the seventh century, is an assortment of sacred structures and shrines, and serves as the spiritual center of Shitamchi (old Tokyo).

The Asakusa Kannon Temple bazaar is lined with gift shops, restaurants, cinemas and music shows. Small booths feature souvenirs, incense and good luck charms like wooden arrows and fortune scrolls. Arrows from last year's celebration are burned in fires. Other shops offer traditional dishes such as yaki soba, a spicy noodle dish; oden, a fish dumpling stew; and sticky rice cakes called mochi. Mochi represent the abundance of the past year and continued prosperity in the years to come.

Basic Mochi Recipe (Pictured above)

Open a package of Mochi. With a large, sharp knife, cut into pieces about 1-1/2" square. Bake in a pre-heated 450° F oven or toaster-oven for 8-10 minutes or until squares are puffed up and slightly browned. Mochi is delicious and satisfying eaten just this way. You can also fill the Mochi puffs with your favorite sandwich ingredients, sauces, or spreads. Here are some ideas : Top or stuff with butter and honey. Stuff with peanut butter or almond butter. Add jam if you like. Dip in a mixture of soy sauce, honey and fresh-grated ginger. Stuff with sliced or grated cheese. Stuff with avocado, tomato, sprouts and salad dressing. Fill with tabouli salad, tahini or baba ganoush. Smother with Italian-style tomato sauce and cheese. Fill with beans, cheese, tomatoes and onions for a Mochi Burrito. Fill with sautéed vegetables such as carrots, cabbage, and onions. Stuff with cream cheese, dates and cashews.

News via LA Downtown News: 'e.3rd: Restaurateur Jason Ha, of the popular Zip Fusion Sushi at Third and Traction, is embarking on his second Arts District eatery this year. The venture called e.3rd will convert a former warehouse and film studio into a mid-priced steakhouse with a fusion twist. There will be copious outdoor seating, funky decor and a centerpiece soju, beer and wine bar. The Third Street restaurant will open later in the year.'

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