Back when I was in Japan this last visit, I mentioned that on January 7th, we ate a special dish of porridge and seven herbs. I had never heard of the holiday before, and resources on the Internet a little scarce, so I did a bit of research that I wanted to pass along.
In Japan, there are some seasonal festivals/holidays collectively called sekku （節句). According to this very helpful book I bought in Japan (includes both English and Japanese text), the five sekku days are:
- Nanakusa (七草, Jan. 7th) – the “seven grasses” day.
- Mi no hi (巳の日, March 3rd) – originally the “day of the snake”, but now celebrated instead as “Girl’s Day” or hinamatsuri.
- Shōbu no hi (尚武の日, May 5th) – originally “day of the iris”, but now celebrated as “Boy’s Day”, or “Children’s Day”.
- Tanabata (七夕, July 7th) – the Tanabata festival.
- Kiku no hi (菊の日, Sept. 9th) – the “day of the chrysanthemum”. The 9th day of the 9th month is very auspicious according to Chinese tradition.
So January 7th is the day of Nanakusa. In the medieval calendar, this was also the “day of the human” (as opposed to animals of the zodiac), so on this day the government would not execute anyone, and people ate a humble dish of rice porridge with seven herbs and grasses, hence the name. According to this site, the seven grasses and herbs in the porridge are:
- seri (芹) – Water Dropwort
- gogyō (御形) – Jersey Cudweed
- nazuna (薺) – Shepherd’s Purse
- hakobe (繁縷) – Common Chickweed
- hotokenoza (仏の座) – Lapsana, but the Japanese name literally means “Buddha’s seat”.
- suzuna (菘) – Turnip leaf.
- suzushiro (蘿蔔) – Japanese radish, or daikon leaf.
So, I remember the day before there was a huge basket of leafy vegetables in the kitchen at my wife’s house, but I didn’t know what they were. On the 7th, I was greeted with a porridge containing shredded leaves from each of the plants above. I actually found it was a great meal. The porridge and grasses (shredded for easy consumption) were earthy and hearty. As the website above says, after a lot of eating and fatty consumption from New Year’s, nanakusa is a nice change of pace. I enjoyed it, and I hope you get a chance to try it too. You’ll only see it on this one day in Japan, so don’t miss out.