The Ageing Gaijin – Tastes from Japan # 3

O-sechi – a rather superior lunchbox


On the 30thDecember a courier delivered a very special package to our cosy flat in Omori. I use the word cosy because it sounds a bit more homely than tiny. There’s room to swing about two cats and it took a bit of getting used to after the wide open-plan spaces of our London home. But now we are, and it is well…. distinctly, cosy.

The package wasn’t a late Christmas present but an array of delicacies upon which we would feast on New Year’s Day. The first problem was to find space in our rather ‘cosy’ fridge for the large box. Fortunately, at this time of year – there’s a distinct chill in the air so we are able to use our balcony as a back-up fridge.

We are very lucky because our balcony is on the 16thfloor and on a clear, sunny day, which is more or less every day at this time of year, we get wonderful views of Mount Fuji – the iconic mountain revered by the Japanese.

In this country New Year’s Day is the one to celebrate and it is a distinctly family affair. The day may include a visit to a local shrine to ask for divine support for the year to come. But the centre piece of the day is O-sechi. And (given the nine-hour time difference) about the time you were probably finally hitting the sack after your New Year’s revelries we were about to enjoy ours.

When Kasumi was a child, her mother would spend several days before 1stJanuary preparing a great selection of dishes for the New Year’s feast. Nowadays we, in common with many others, are able to order this from a specialist store. And so it was at noon on New Year’s Day we took the O-sechi out of the fridge and began our celebration.

The Japanese are the world masters at beautiful packaging and rather like opening a Christmas stocking one of the pleasures is unwrapping the boxes to see what treats await.

There were 43 of them. Delicious morsels of fish, meat, veg, fruit, nuts, beans, seaweed of every type you can imagine and a few more besides.

Amongst the lovely flavours in our boxes were:

  • Shitake mushrooms stuffed with minced prawns
  • Abalone, squid, prawns and baby octopus marinated in soya, mirin and sake
  • Succulent Roast Beef with a honey, vinegar, lemon and beef stock gravy
  • A variety of Maki rolls containing fish, vegetables or egg
  • Salmon roes
  • Honeyed walnuts cooked with fish flakes and sake
  • Baby kumquats and peaches

Rather like the Christmas turkey – the feast keeps going for two or three days after the event but unlike the festive bird, there’s so much choice that there’s no chance of it becoming boring.

Great food is a treat for the eyes as well as the taste buds and our delicious O-sechi delivered brilliantly on both counts. Can’t wait until next year!


Foregoing all the splendours of Japanese cuisine, we decided on Christmas Day to celebrate with something a bit more familiar. So, we booked afternoon tea at the Conrad Hotel. Their lounge is on the 28thFloor with wonderful views of Tokyo Bay. We sat and watched the sun set (yes – the sun also sets here!) as we munched our way through plates of delicious sweet and savoury delights. It’s somewhat galling that not content with just producing their own food to the highest standards, the Japanese do ours rather well too!


Catch up with previous Ageing Gaijin posts here

The Ageing Gaijin – Tastes from Japan # 1

The Ageing Gaijin – Tastes from Japan # 2