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Ancient traditions and omens linked to foods

Date Posted: 2006-01-05

The holiday celebrations are in full swing, and will continue through the lunar new year late this month.

Foods are at the heart of many celebrations, and there is more to the process than simply nibbling and eating. Okinawans believe strong meanings are linked to various foods. In essence, eating certain foods evoke certain omens.

Pork is considered a food that brings happiness. Eating yams is believed to keep a person from growing old, and seaweed promotes long life. Want children? Eat fish cakes and fish eggs.

Want to have money…to be wealthy? Fried eggs and yellow chestnuts will lead in that direction. Good health is believed to get a boost from pork intestine soup, and also from tofu.

Keeping the evil spirits at bay is thought to best be accomplished by chowing down on squid.

Holiday festivities used to take days to prepare for, with family members gathering to prepare everything in a single household in anticipation of the celebration. Today, young people consider themselves too busy to commit to all the cooking, and are turning to hotel chefs to work the culinary magic on their behalf. While some housewives are doing the cooking at home, many are ordering from hotels and restaurants.

It’s not cheap, but the meals are delicious and presentation is exquisite. Figure on Y16,000~35,000 for a full food set. The Laguna Garden Hotel in Ginowan is one specializing in holiday feasts. Chefs have been slaving and fretting for days to make everything ready.

Expensive dishes including crab, lobster, shrimp, roast beef, smoke salmon and caviar are extremely popular, and orders have been flowing in for weeks. The tempo is slowing now, but will crank up again for the Lunar New Year.

More food and less exercise is proving a problem to waistlines this holiday season. Medical professionals note people tend to eat over and over, and are gaining weight at an unprecedented clip. Radio and television are now rolling out the post-New Year’s holiday programs promoting fitness. One radio and television magazine is touting the obvious, that people should not be eating before they’re really hungry. The holiday season tends to find people doing lots of snacking and nibbling. Instead of high calory, high carbohydrate foods, the experts encourage a trend toward vegetables.

New Year’s gifts, Otoshidama, are ever popular, with relatives being the principle beneficiaries.

Money is given to children and other relatives, and bosses are doling out money to office staffs. The whole issue is so steeped in Okinawan culture that families are even going into debt to meet the otoshidama requirements. Social counselors point out that many families are now forced to take out bank loans to have the money to “properly” celebrate the new year.

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