Osechi-ryouri are traditional Japanese New Year foods. The tradition started in the Heian Period (794-1185). Osechi are easily recognizable by their special boxes called juubako, which resemble bentou boxes. Like bentou boxes, juubako are often kept stacked before and after use.
The dishes that make up osechi each have a special meaning celebrating the New Year. Some examples are:
【Daidai (橙)】Japanese bitter orange. Daidai means "from generation to generation" when written in different kanji as 代々. Like kazunoko below, it symbolizes a wish for children in the New Year. 【Datemaki (伊達巻 or 伊達巻き)】sweet rolled omelette mixed with fish paste or mashed shrimp. They symbolize a wish for many auspicious days. On auspicious days (晴れの日, hare-no-hi), Japanese people traditionally wear fine clothing as a part of enjoying themselves. One of the meanings associated with the second kanji includes "fashionability," derived from the illustrious dress of the samurai from Date Han. 【Kamaboko (蒲鉾)】broiled fish paste. Traditionally, slices of red and white kamaboko are alternated in rows or arranged in a pattern. The color and shape are reminiscent of Japan rising sun, and have a celebratory, festive meaning. 【Kazunoko (数の子)】herring roe. Kazu means "number" and ko means "child". It symbolizes a wish to be gifted with numerous children in the New Year. 【Konbu (昆布)】a kind of seaweed. It is associated with the word yorokobu, meaning "joy". 【Kuro-mame (黒豆)】black soybeans. Mame also means "health," symbolizing a wish for health in the New Year. 【Tai (鯛)】red sea-bream. Tai is associated with the Japanese word medetai, symbolizing an auspicious event. 【Tazukuri (田作り)】dried sardines cooked in soy sauce. The literal meaning of the kanji in tazukuri is "rice paddy maker", as the fish were used historically to fertilize rice fields. The symbolism is of an abundant harvest. 【Zouni (雑煮)】a soup of mochi rice cakes in clear broth (in eastern Japan) or miso broth (in western Japan). 【Ebi (エビ)】skewered prawns cooked with sake and soy sauce. 【Nishiki tamago (錦卵)】egg roulade; the egg is separated before cooking, yellow symbolizing gold, and white symbolizing silver.