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Hokkidon (Surf Clam Bowl): Delicacy of Aomori

9 Feb
Hokkidon (surf clam bowl)

Hokkidon (surf clam bowl)


Hokkidon (ホッキ丼)/ Surf Clam Bowl


1050 yen


Kikuzushi (喜久寿司)

Address: 2-4-31 Chuocho, Misawa, Aomori Prefecture 033-0001 , Japan

Phone number: 0176-53-3476

Have you ever heard of Hokkidon?  It’s a delicacy available only from December through March in certain areas of Aomori, namely in Hachinohe and Misawa.  This simple and delicious dish is served with fresh local hokki (surf clam) over rice.

Last month I went to a restaurant called Kikuzushi (喜久寿司), known for fresh and high quality sushi dishes in Misawa city.  I didn’t see hokkidon on the menu, but when I asked the waitress about it, she said they’d certainly serve it until about March.

The dish came with raw and cooked hokki along with miso soup, chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し/egg custard dish), kinpira gobou (きんぴらごぼう/braised burdock root), and tsukemono (漬物/picked vegetables).  Hokki was very fresh, and tororo imo (a type of yam made in Aomori) on top of rice added flavor and texture.  Chawanmushi was also a treat, since it’s something I don’t usually make at home.

If you want to try hokkidon in the spirit of adventure, Misawa is the place to go.  Click here to see the restaurants serving hokkidon in Misawa.  And be sure to ask for it at restaurants, because some places don’t list it on the menu!


What do Japanese eat on New Year’s Eve?

27 Dec
soba photo by Yamaguchi Yoshiaki

photo by Yamaguchi Yoshiaki under a creative commons license

What do Japanese eat on New Year’s Eve?

Actually, no one has ever asked me that question.  Perhaps the concept of eating something specific on New Year’s Eve is uniquely Japanese.  As I wrote in the previous post,  Japanese spend quiet time with families during oshgōatsu (New Year’s holiday).  While the rest of the world is having parties on New Year’s Eve, Japanese spend time cleaning their houses, watching kōhaku uta gassen (紅白歌合戦), an annual music show, and eating toshikoshi-soba (年越し蕎麦), Year-End Soba.

What is soba?

Soba noodles are popular dish in Japan throughout the year.  They’re made of buckwheat flour or a mixture of buckwheat and wheat flour.  Despite its name, buckwheat doesn’t contain wheat, so it’s naturally gluten-free.  Instead it has vitamins B1 and B2, several minerals, proteins, and choline.  Because buckwheat is loaded with health benefits, soba noodles have become very popular overseas in recent years.  Soba dishes can be served cold or hot.


Cold soba (Zarusoba)

What is toshikoshi-soba?

Toshikoshi-soba is a soba dish Japanese eat on New Year’s Eve.  It comes with many different toppings such as seaweed, fried-tofu, and vegetables, and it is usually served hot.  There are varieties of toshikoshi soba, depending on the region.  In Tokyo where I’m from toshikoshi-soba tastes and looks the same as a regular hot soba dish.  What makes it special is the day we eat it.

Why do Japanese eat toshikoshi-soba?

There are several theories on why this tradition began.  Some say that long soba noodles symbolize a long life.   Others say that because it’s easy to cut soba, it is a metaphor for letting go of hardship of the year.  In any case, this tradition began during the Edo period (1603 – 1867), and it’s still very much a part of holiday traditions in Japan.  According to the recent survey, over half of Japanese eat toshikoshi-soba on New Year’s Eve.

How to eat soba properly?

If you’ve ever seen Japanese eat noodles, you may have be shocked by how much noises we make while eating them.  Japanese noodles are long (instant noodles sold in the U.S are cut shorter), so it is perfectly acceptable to slurp them.  In fact if you eat noodles quietly in Japan, that’d seem rather odd to us.  No one will be offended, if you do, though.  What’s the most important table manner in Japan?  Enjoying your food.

If you’re interested in making toshikoshi-soba at home, click here for recipe.

I wish you a wonderful holiday season and a new year filled with happiness and peace.

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How do Japanese celebrate holidays?

9 Dec
osechiryouri (New Year photo by masaaki komori under a Creative Commons License

osechi-ryouri (traditional New Year foods)
photo by Masaaki Komori under a Creative Commons License

How do Japanese celebrate holidays?  New Year is the biggest holiday of the year in Japan.Since 1873 Japanese have been celebrating New Year according to the Gregorian calendar on January 1 of each year, although some parts of Japan, such as Okinawa, still celebrate it according to the Chinese calendar.   Japanese New Year traditions involve decorating the house, spending time with  families, eating specially prepared meals called “osechi-ryouri,” going to a shrine to pray, and taking time off from work.  In many ways it is similar to how Americans celebrate Christmas.

On the other hand, Christmas is a secular holiday to most Japanese.  It is estimated that 1 % of Japan’s population is Christian, but Japanese have adapted Christmas traditions in their own ways.  On Christmas Eve young people have a party with friends and spend time with their boyfriend/girlfriend.  Families share a Christmas cake and decorate a small tree in their homes while children go to bed, excited about Christmas presents from Santa Claus.

Strangely enough, Santa behaves differently in Japan:  Instead of leaving presents under the trees, he puts them next to a child’s bed.  Given that most Japanese families don’t have big Christmas trees, he has no choice.  But there is one problem:  Many children stay up, pretending to be asleep with their eyes closed, and waiting for Santa Claus only to learn that Santa was their mom or dad.

To simplify it I’ve often described that Christmas in Japan is like New Year in America and vice versa.  What’s harder to explain is the things Japanese do not do in New Year during “mochū, (喪中) a mourning period.  If a relative or someone close to us died in the previous year, we don’t celebrate New Year.  I explained this custom in the recent post of my other blog (Yumiko Sato Music Therapy) in the context of coping with grief.

During mochū, we don’t eat osechi-ryouri or send nengajo, New Year’s greeting cards.   Instead,  we send mochū hagaki (mochu postcards) to let friends and acquaintances know that we had death in our family, and that we are not able to participate in the New Year celebrations. During  mochū we don’t place New Year decorations inside and outside homes as we normally would.  These decorations include items such as  pine and bamboo,  sacred straw festoons, and oval shaped rice cakes.  So if you see a house with no New Year decoration, it may be beacuse there was death in the family in the previous year.

Mochū has many purposes, one of which is to take the pressure to celebrate the holiday off of the bereaved.  Another is to pray for the repose of the deceased.  Not all traditions and customs are good or relevant, but some remain useful.  Mochū is one of those old traditions that are still suitable today, because it allows us to be sensitive to the bereaved.

Another old tradition related to New Year is the custom of cleaning the house at the end of the year, called “oosouji (extensive cleaning).”  Some people implement oosouji in schools and at work as well.  It’s important for Japanese to welcome a new year in a clean state.  My memories of New Year’s Eve consist of my mother dusting and cleaning every corner of the house.  I didn’t like this custom as a child, since she would often ask for my help.  But it’s one of the few Japanese holiday traditions I’ve kept while living abroad most of my adult life.  It’s good to dust yourself off once in a while.

As for the rest of the holiday traditions, I’ll have more to report in January.  In the meantime, I’ve already began cleaning my house.

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