Japanese Expats Swap 'osechi' Dishes To Save Time, Money, Energy

Japanese expats swap 'osechi' dishes to save time, money, energyJapanese living in the United States have joined hands to overcome the costs, time and scarcity of ingredients in preparing traditional “osechi” dishes to celebrate the New Year.

Instead of making often elaborate osechi consisting of a variety of items, they prepare one or two dishes each and then exchange them for other osechi food.

Ayumi Shinohara, a working mother who lives on the outskirts of Boston, plans to swap her osechi food with 19 others in her group on Dec. 31.

Last year, when nine people joined the swapping program, Shinohara, 39, traded her cooked glazed shrimp for 13 other dishes, including roast beef, sweet chestnuts and pickled salad of “daikon” radish and carrots. The exchange gave Shinohara’s family a taste of osechi similar to the version back at home.

Unlike in Japan, Shinohara and others do not get an extended New Year’s holiday period in the United States, giving them little time to cook the traditional wide range of osechi dishes.

“I cannot prepare this many varieties of dishes just by myself,” Shinohara said. “Only with others can cooking osechi be fun and inexpensive.”

Shinohara signed up for the osechi swapping program through another Japanese woman four years ago. Previously, she never bothered to prepare osechi in her many years in the United States.

The program was suspended when the organizer returned to Japan, but Shinohara revived it last year.

In Anchorage, Maiko Nagaoka, 41, and other Japanese women living in nearby communities have been trading osechi dishes for four years.

The women and their children get together to exchange food and prepare dishes of vegetables, meat and mushrooms and rice cakes--all osechi staples for the New Year.

Nagaoka said such gatherings are uplifting for residents in the Alaskan city, where temperatures plunge below zero and the sun shines for only six hours in winter.

“A key to ride out winter is to get together with friends and have a laugh at the osechi swapping party,” she said. “It is also an occasion to gain a feel for faraway Japan.”

The time-consuming and expensive process of preparing osechi to celebrate the New Year has also prompted people in Japan to cooperate.

Members of Mori no Oto, an environmental group in Yokohama’s Aoba Ward, gathered late last year at a communal place to trade 19 varieties of osechi dishes. Most of the members are mothers in their 30s and 40s.

The cost of osechi for a four-member family was 4,500 yen ($37.5), according to the group.

“Since we often threw parties in which we brought one dish each, we immediately warmed to the idea (of trading osechi),” said Kaori Onishi, 40, who organized the event.