Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Only in Japan: Noodles of Longevity

Photo taken from popartichoke

In Japan it's a tradition to have soba noodles on New Year's Eve.  In Japanese it is called Toshi Koshi Soba, 年越しそば. (End of the Year Soba) While many in the West are gearing up for party time, the Japanese have a more quiet tradition that dates back hundreds of years to the Edo period.
Most of these seasonal traditions in Japan are rooted in superstition.  The long noodles symbolize a long life, so as the New Year starts you have in a sense the promise or blessing of a long life with you as you partake of the food. It certainly isn't something Japanese take too seriously, but it is something to ponder. 

As it is with many Japanese customs, behind the superstition there is a pearl of wisdom to be found that people long ago discovered and passed on. Using the form of superstition or tradition the Japanese preserve the wisdom and memory of their ancestors. In Japan the fall harvest time is a festive time of feasting and eating while the food from the harvest is still good.  As the year comes to an end in December, there are still gatherings in the form of feasts and merryment in order to forget all the troubles of the year gone bye called Bo Nen Kai 忘年会. After all the gorging and drinking, it most have seemed the healthy way for the Japanese to embrace the New Year in sober and simple fashion with a bowl of buckwheat noodles (soba).


So as I sat and took in the warm bowl of noodles and soup, I did feel a comfort at the simplicity of the meal. There's something special about taking your time and practicing a custom with proper reflection. So will I live a long life? Well, on a cold New Year's night a bowl of warm noodles sure couldn't hurt.
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