Traditional Japanese Osekihan: Happy Rice Dish for Celebratory Days
In Japan there is an auspicious rice dish called “Osekihan” that is eaten on happy days. The osekihan is reddish in color from the azuki (red beans) in it. Unlike the white rice that is eaten regularly as a staple, this rice is traditionally eaten in Japan on a “Hare no Hi”, which means it is an eventful day of celebration or a special occasion.
What is “Hare no Hi”?
In Japan, since the old days, “ke” was used to mean daily or ordinary, while the unordinary such as ceremonies, annual events and celebration was called “hare”; in this way the ordinary and unordinary was differentiated. In addition to this “Hare no Hi (Day of “hare”) there are many words as listed below, that use the word “hare” to express an unordinary and special situation.
– Haregi (Clothing of “hare”): Kimono that is worn on days of celebration
– Hare no Kadode (Departure in “hare”): A special day of beginning something in life, i.e. marriage
– Harebutai (Stage of “hare”): An important commemorative moment in one’s life such as graduation
Why Osekihan is eaten
In the past, in Japan, it was believed that the color red had magical powers and could ward off calamity. For this reason, the osekihan or red rice came to be served for ceremonies and celebrations as a symbol of warding off evil. Even today, the osekihan is eaten for celebrations like entering a new school, graduation, coming of age and giving birth as well as annual events such as girls’ day and boys’ day.
Additionally, for those who engage in business, there are some who have customs of eating osekihan on the first day of each month. For a mercantile family, the 1st signified an important day from happiness of being able to start the first of the month without any calamities in the prior month and to wish for good business for the entire coming month.
Try Making Osekihan!
Here we introduce how to make osekihan, which is quite simple to make. There are different family recipes for making osekihan such as steaming and cooking in an earthen pot but the method we introduce here using a pressure cooker or rice cooker helps make it easy for anyone to cook osekihan.
How about making the traditional Japanese happy rice dish of “hare no hi” when you have days of celebration such as birthdays or wedding anniversaries?
Ingredients (For 4 people): Mochi Rice (sticky rice) 3 Cups, Azuki red beans 1/2 Cup
1. Wash the azuki well. Put 2 Cups of water (4 times the amount of azuki) and azuki in a pot and heat. Once it comes to a boil, keep a slow boil for 3 minutes.
2. Take the pot off from the heat, discard the water in the pot. Add 3 Cups (6 times the amount of azuki) of fresh water in the pot, bring to a boil, and boil over low heat for 15 minutes.
3. While cooking the azuki, wash and strain the mochi rice.
4. Take the pot off from the heat and separate the cooked azuki and water.
<When using a pressure cooker>
5. Put azuki, mochi rice, 300 cc of water that was used to cook the azuki (add hot water to fill to 300 cc if you do not have enough) in a pressure cooker. Heat for 3 minutes, turn off the heat and leave for automatic release. Then open the lid and fluff the rice. Then it is finished.
<When using a rice cooker>
5. Put mochi rice in the cooking bowl of the rice cooker. Fill the cooking bowl with water that was used in cooking the azuki beans up to the line indicating the *Okowa 3 Go mark. Then, add the cooked azuki, close the lid and cook. Once cooked, fluff the rice and then you’re finished.
*If the rice cooker bowl does not have a mark to indicate water level for okowa rice, put in water from cooking the azuki beans to fill up to a little below the 3 Go line for white rice.
6. Serve the finished osekihan on dishware, sprinkle with a little gomashio (mixture of black sesame and salt) and you’re done!
Osekihan with a lightly salted flavor with sesame and salt, Photo by flickr
Tidbit: Osekihan from Hokkaido is Sweet!?
We introduced how to make the osekihan, but actually, there are variations on the osekihan by different regions based on customs and cultures of each region of Japan.
For example, in the Kanto area, a bean called “sasage” beans (cowpeas) are used instead of azuki. In some parts of Chiba Prefecture, there is osekihan that uses their local product, peanuts. In Aomori, the osekihan is cooked seasoned with sugar, and in parts of Niigata, color is added with soy sauce.
Hokkaido, which is where I am born and raised, mochi rice is colored red and cooked then topped with amanatto (sugared sweet bean confection) of the kintoki (red kidney) bean instead of azuki, thus making it a slightly sweet osekihan.
A researching company in Japan conducted a survey asking Japanese if they like osekihan. It seems 87% answered they either “like” or “somewhat like” the dish. As for the reason for their answer, the most people answered they like the “texture or flavor”, but the second most common answer was that it “made them feel something special”.
For Japanese the Osekihan is a happy rice dish to celebrate a “hare no hi”. This food culture is disseminated in various ways in different families throughout Japan. Nowadays, osekihan can be seen sold in the form or a rice ball or bento box and is sold in department store food floors, convenience stores, and supermarkets; so it can be enjoyed quite casually.
If you consider travelling to Japan a special day in your memory, it could be fun to say that it is a “hare no hi” and celebrate it with the traditional Japanese food item, osekihan.