Weekly Japanese Pop Culture Thread (December 30, 2020)

Welcome to The Avocado’s weekly discussion of Japanese pop culture! 2021 is just around the corner, and I plan on ringing in the new year the same way I have for years: eating delicious toshikoshi soba. Many years ago I learned that it’s traditional to eat a bowl of soba to ring in the new year in Japan. To be honest, the first year I attempted to make my own soba, it was terrible. I way overcooked the noodles, and the broth was horribly wrong. My moms were very concerned about these sad, mushy, grey noodles, but they still ate a few bites to humor me. Because I’m stubborn, I ate all of mine and vowed to make a more edible bowl next time. Luckily, making soba is really very easy (which just shows how bad of a cook I was at the time), so it didn’t take long for me to perfect the dish. This year I’ll be making a very simple toshikoshi soba using mentsuyu for the broth (I could make it myself, but I’m lazy) and topped with green onions, leeks, and maybe some wakame. As Makiko Itoh explains in her recent article, there are several good reasons to ring in the new year with soba:

Eating a bowl of soba noodles to mark the end of the old year and pass into the new is a tradition that became widely established in the early 19th century, although its roots may be even older than that. There are several theories as to why soba was chosen as the noodle of choice for the season. One is that buckwheat is a symbol of strength, since the grain is very resilient to cold and bad weather; another is that the long, thin noodles signify a long — yet quiet and uneventful — life. But today, the best symbolic reason to eat soba noodles is that they can be easily bitten, representing a clean, no-regrets break with the ending year. Other names for the year-end bowl of soba include nengiri (“cut off the year”) soba and engiri (“cut off relationships”) soba, both of which seem apropos, too. 

Personally, I’m really looking forward to cutting off 2020 with my bowl of soba as I think about what I want to accomplish in 2021. If you’d like to try making your own toshikoshi soba, here are two recipes to get you started: The Japan Times and Just One Cookbook.

I’ve really enjoyed posting these threads this year, and I’m so thankful that you all let me have this space to talk about Japan. It’s definitely been a highlight of my year, and I look forward to continuing the work in 2021. Happy New Year, everyone!

And, as always…

What have you been watching/reading/playing/eating/listening to lately?

Happy Wednesday! 🙂