Soy in Japanese festivals
1) Osechi (kuro-mamé)
Firstly, you can find soybeans in Osechi.
Osechi is a representative Japanese cuisine which we prepare to celebrate the New Year.
It consists of various menus unique to Osechi.
Among them, what we cannot forget is black beans called Kuro-mamé.
It’s black soybeans simmered with soy sauce, sugar etc.
The word mamé （豆）also means “vigor” and “assiduity” in the Japanese.
Therefore we eat kuro-mamé, praying that we can stay healthy and work assiduously throughout the year.
Not only black beans.
Most of the ingredients in Osechi have some symbolic meanings.
For example, herring roe called Kazunoko symbolizes prolificacy. Because they have so many eggs.
Dried anchovies called gomamé symbolizes bountiful harvests. Because the Kanji we use for gomamé is 五万米 which means “fifty thousand rice”. Furthermore, we cannot overlook the fact the word gomamé includes mamé in it. The word mamé which represents vigor and assiduity is greatly respected in Japan.
By the way, herring roe and anchovies were both used as fertilizer.
Although now herring roe is expensive in Japan, I hear that it is usually thrown away in some countries other than Japan.
As this fact shows, Osechi is not luxurious cuisine. We’ve kept a custom of eating them not because they are special feasts.
Instead, we eat Osechi with prayers for the new year.
Secondly, you can find soybeans in Setsubun.
On 3 February, the day called “Setsubun“, we throw soybeans from inside to outside of the house.
While throwing, we yell “Out with the demon ! In with the happiness”.
This gesture has a meaning to chase the sickness and unhappiness from the house and invite the happiness in.
Incidentally, this day is the first day of spring in Japanese old calendar.
After this ceremony, we eat the number of soybeans that corresponds to our age plus one, believing that soybean has special power to keep us healthy and happy.
3) Soybeans dedicated to the moon
Thirdly, you can find soybeans in Tsukimi (viewing the moon).
On September 13, we offer soybeans called “eda-mamé” to the moon to thank for a good harvest.
In spite of their vivid green color, they are also soybeans.
To tell the truth, eda-mamé are soybeans not yet ripe. “Eda” means branch and eda-mamé are often sold with branches to keep their freshness.
For their auspicious vivid color, we offer eda-mamé to the moon, together with sweet potatoes and chestnuts which always evoke us autumn.
By the way, eda-mamé goes quite well with beer.
Because, vitamin B1 and methionine contained in soybeans help to break down alcohol.