New Year days are the most important holidays of Japan. Each day of the eight day celebration has its own uniqueness. Temples, Shrines and other tourist places will be crowded during this time. All the family members will be joining together at their home. Among these, there is a special day among the New Year celebrations of Japan for making a healthy rice porridge cooked with herbs. It is called 'Nanakusa no seku' or 'the festival of seven herbs'. It is usually observed on the last day of the New Year festival, on the 7th January. New year days of Japan are the time of gathering with family members and relatives.
Every eight days of Japanese New Year celebrations are unique with different traditions and customs. Along with the familiar Japanese New Year customs like Kadomatsu, Kagami mochi etc., this day and the special rice porridge are also very important. The 7th day is considered as a day to sooth the body and eat some healthy food. The breakfast of 7th January or the dinner just before that, is considered as the time to consume this medicinal rice porridge.
'Nanakusa no gayu' literally means the ‘the feast of seven herbs’. The rice soup or the Japanese Okayu is the main ingredient of this dish. But this is different from the normal Okayu that is consumed while we are sick. The importance of this special dish lies in the other ingredients used. There are seven special herbs that are used along with the rice soup while preparing it. The traditional herbs used in the Nanakusa no gayu are the Seri (water dropwart), Nazuna (shepherd’s purse), Gogyou (cudweed), Hakobera (chickweed), Hotokenoza (nipplewort), Suzuna (turnip) and Suzushiro (radish). Based on the region and the availability, the list of these herbs might change.
As the rural areas have given way to the urban life, the wild weeds are disappearing. Sometimes these weeds will not be available in all areas of the country during the New Year time to make the dish. So people sometimes use other leafs instead of these to make the seven weeds. But currently, the seven weeds could be seen in packets with a label 'Haru no nanakusa' in the supermarkets that could be consumed without any difficulty. The label 'Haru no Nanakusa' means 'The seven spring herbs'. Eventhough the time is winter, the herbs included in this group are the ones that sprout during the early spring. It is considered that the New Year celebrations will make the stomach work hard eating a lot of heavy meals. And this dish, usually consumed as breakfast of January 7th, is considered to sooth the stomach as it is the rice soup itself. The herbs included in it which is rich in vitamins and minerals will surely provide health. Most of these green leaves are having special medicinal importance which was realized by the old generations.
This dish is really easy to prepare. Eventhough collecting the leaves is difficult, it can be solved by using the readily available packet of herbs from the grocery shops. All the seven types of herbs are included in the packet distributed through the supermarkets.
Photo: GetHiroshima.com on FlickrAll we need to buy it, wash and cut it to add in the rice porridge. The rice is washed well and cooked to make the soup. The washed vegetables are boiled for about 1 minute with a pinch of salt and they are chopped well. Once the rice is cooked well, the veggies are added into it to make the ‘Nanakusa no gayu’. Eventhough this healthy rice porridge is given importance on the special New Year Day, it could be made and consumed any time as it is healthy and provides lot of nutrition and has great medicinal value. Now also, almost all the Japanese people give importance to this special day and the healthy dish meant for that day. Let’s try this dish the next New Year if you are hearing about it for the first time.