The o-sechi foods of the New Year exemplify traditional Japanese cuisine, utilizing the fruits of the mountains and the bounty of the ocean to celebrate all of the gifts that nature provides. Nowhere is this land-and-sea pairing more evident than in the classic sanshu-zakana triumvirate of black beans (kuromame), dry-roasted small sardines (tazukuri) and preserved herring roe (kazunoko) used to ring in the New Year holiday.

Black beans obviously come from the field and herring roe from the sea. While sardines are a blessing from the ocean as well, dry-roasted, they straddle the fence between water and earth.

The small, sun-dried sardines (hoshi katakuchi iwashi) used to make tazukuri are about 3 cm in length and are also called gomame. Much smaller sardines are called either chirimen-jako or shirasu-boshi and served dried, raw or simmered with peppercorns. Sardines bigger than 3 or 4 cm are generally slightly dried and poached in sweetened soy and known by various names, most of which include the iwashi sardine moniker.