Beiju: The meaning of this tradition
Birthday is the anniversary of the birth of a person. It has been said that people around the world have unique traditions and customs when it comes to celebrating their birthdays. In the Japanese culture, reaching the age of eighty-eight is considered a milestone that it deserves a special celebration. This celebration is commonly known among Japanese as Beiju or also known as "yone no iwai". It became popular since the character for number 88 resembles the character of rice when written together; rice, when translated to Japanese, is bei.
Rice is considered to be a very important commodity not just in Japan, but also other countries in Asia. Even before the modern times, rice for the Japanese people is a symbol of purity and happiness. It is always respected by the people of Japan because this is their food, their livelihood and of course their life. Therefore, the eighty-eighth birthday should be celebrated through a happy feast.
How the Japanese spend their Beiju birthday
Similar to how a Kanreki birthday is spent, the celebrant wears a traditional vest and hat. But, instead of having it in red, it is normally gold in color. The cap is called a "zukin", and the vest is commonly known as "chanchanko". Moreover, the zabuton is the cushion wherein the celebrant sits during the ceremony, of course, it has to be in color gold as well.
Historically, birthdays in Japan weren't always celebrated on the date itself. Every New Year all Japanese celebrates their birthday regardless of when they were born. However, it was not until World War II that this was changed. Nowadays, modern people in Japan celebrate it on the exact date of their birth.
During the feast, the celebrant will be sharing or giving rice to all the guest as a sign of wishing them long life. In return, the guest will be presenting their "hato no tsue" gift, which is a long cane with a handle shaped like a dove. This gift is considered traditional in Akita prefecture in Northwest Japan. In Japanese culture, it is said to be that by reaching forty a person has reached a full lifetime. So, by celebrating 80, it means that a person has already lived two lifetimes.
The Beiju is celebrated by the whole family through a special feast or banquet wherein all the relatives and friends will be invited. Special food will be prepared by the family in honor of the celebrant. The most popular cuisines prepared for this day are Sekihan and Japanese sea bream. The Sekihan is sticky rice steamed with red adzuki beans, so it gives the color red. Sekihan is strongly associated with celebrations that the phrase "let's have Sekihan" is translated to "let's celebrate". Japanese sea bream is a traditional dish that is commonly prepared during New Year and occasions such as birthday; it is considered to the most prized fish in the country.
Gift giving Traditions among the people in Japan
It is considered as gift-giving in the middle of the year as it usually starts on the 15th of July. The Japanese send gifts to their relatives as a sign of gratitude for those to whom they consider indebted to. The most common present for Ochugen are the locally produced products or merchandise, which they could send directly from the factory to the people they would want to send it to. This kind of product is referred to as Sanchokuhin. Japanese sake or beer is most often the products that are common to be given as Ochugen. Also, the price of the ochugen may vary from two thousand to five thousand Japanese Yen. The higher the relationship is to the receiver, the higher the price tag of the ochugen. It is normally beautifully wrapped with a Noshi attached, as Noshi is a special piece of paper that bears the name of the sender
The oseibo is the same as ochugen, the only difference is the time of the year the gifts are given. These presents are usually given at the end of the year. Just like the ochugen, any locally edible product or beverage are used for this gift giving occasion. The major difference between the ochugen and oseibo is that the ochugen is usually given to family, relatives, and spouse; while the oseiba can be given to anyone, it can be a neighbor or someone from the office.
The otoshidama is a tradition wherein gift money is given to children by their families and relatives. Only banknotes are given and it should be folded three times, then it will be inserted in a special otoshidama envelope that comes with different colors and pictures. The minimum amount that is given is one thousand Japanese Yen, and normally the eldest will give them the highest amount of money.
Omiyage, or commonly known as souvenirs, is a type of gift when someone comes back from traveling. Normally, it can be an edible or collectible gift that is considered traditional or locally made in a specific place. It is an opportunity to express your gratitude to someone and is a way of sharing your experience from the trip.
Common celebration food for the Japanese
This type of fish is considered the "king of fish" in Japan because of its sparkling scales of red and its extraordinary taste; it is also believed to be a symbol of good luck. The luck that this brings is said to be from the red scale; red, which is an amusing color for the Japanese and the name of the fish, which is similar to the last syllable of the word happy. It is a common dish served for weddings, New Year and of course birthday. During preparation, it is a custom that it is steamed whole, or what they would call "okashira-tsuki", maintaining its perfect form. In other ways to cook it, it also sometimes prepared as tai-meshi, which is steamed and eaten with rice, or eaten raw or as a sashimi, as a donburi, or simmered as netsuke style, or as a topping.
The word ehomaki is translated as "lucky direction roll" because of the way it is eaten. This is a common food that is prepared by the Japanese for celebrations. It is consumed in a way that a person, who is eating it, is standing towards the auspicious direction of the year. In addition to this, it should be eaten as a whole since cutting it would be cutting the luck as well. Also, every grain should be finished so that not a single grain of luck will be lost. Moreover, the roll is also composed of seven ingredients, seven being considered as an auspicious number in Japan.
This is a collection of food that is considered lucky in the Japanese custom, it is known as "osechi ryori", ryori means food and osechi represent the change in season. It is usually prepared in a wooden box called jubako. Each food symbolizes good luck for the year to come, it is related to health, wealth, long life, happiness and good harvest.
Some examples of food included in the osechi are: kuri kinton or mashed chestnuts, which represents financial growth, it is usually sweeter than regular sweet potato and yellow is considered an auspicious color for the New Year; prawns, which has a bent back that is associated with an old man, that pertains to long life; kazunoko, which is eaten by those who are wishing for a child for the coming year; Namasus, which are daikon and carrot salad that is savored by vinegar that is sweetened. Also, this dish was originated from China and introduced to Japan during the Nara period; Tazukuri or sweetened sardines, this dish literally means "making rice paddy" and it symbolizes plentiful harvest.
This is another lucky Japanese food that is also known as omusubi, or what is widely known as Japanese rice balls. Normally, it's not really shaped like a ball but rather it is a triangle in shape that is likened to a mountain. In Japan, farmers consider the mountain as sacred. So, to have a good harvest, it was intentionally shaped like a mountain.
The nebaneba is a reference to a group of food that is considered lucky in the Japanese custom, it is usually characterized as slimy, sticky, or sometimes with odd appearance. Some known examples are raw eggs, okra, nameko mushrooms, natto, mozuku seaweed, tororo or grated yamaimo, also known as mountain yam). This food, aside from being healthy, is considered lucky due to its tenacity that represents a person who wants to do his absolute best at anything he does.
The Fuku Mame are Japanese beans that are believed to bring good luck when thrown inside and outside the house. It is customary to chant "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!, which means "Demons out! Luck in!", whenever the beans are thrown into the house. It is known to bring good fortune and to ward off evils spirits. Another way of using the beans is throwing it at someone dress as an oni or a demon. In addition to the way it is being used, it is also a custom to eat beans equivalent to the person's age and an extra bean for the year to come.
Toshi Koshi Soba
It has been a tradition for a thousand of years to eat this noodle on New Year's Day, it is believed to have started during the Edo period. To make better sense of the words, it is translated to "year crossing noodle". It is believed to bring good fortune for the coming year. There are several symbolism that revolves around this dish, these are: the length of the noodles signifies long life; the buckwheat plant that is hard is considered to represent resiliency; the softness of the soba noodles, which makes them easy to cut, symbolizes removing bad luck from the past. It can be served in two ways: it can either be submerged in hot broth or served cold with a dipping sauce that is soy based. Additional toppings can be accompanied by this dish such as scallions that are finely chopped, nori seaweeds, raw eggs and fish cakes.
This type of dish is widely known, it is often made of chicken or pork that is cooked with flour, egg, and breadcrumbs. It is usually deep fried until it is crispy and golden in color. Tonkatsu is considered a lucky food that its name translates "to win". This dish is often enjoyed with steam rice, cabbage side dish and a sauce that is sweet and savory.
This type of dish is usually eaten during New Year's Day, it is a mochi cooked with vegetables. There is a variance when it comes to zouni depending on the area. Around Tokyo Area, it is usually made of clear and mochi that are rectangular in shape. In western Japan, the mochi is usually round in shape and submerged in miso type of soup.
This dish is regularly eaten on the morning of January 7th. It literally means 7 herbs. This dish is made out of porridge and seven type of herbs such as cudweed, chickweed, nipplewort, water dropwort, turnip, and radish. This meal represents a person's wish for long life and good health.
It is a dish that is composed of rice with different toppings on top. The toppings usually have special meaning. For example, the shrimp represents long life and red beans symbolize resilience and diligence.
This cuisine is a combination of vegetables, bean, and rice; also, this dish has no meat. It is prepared and offered to the spirit of the ancestor who visited at that time.