Sekihan: The Japanese Tradition of Eating Red Rice

In celebration of something, we Japanese traditionally prepare glutinous rice that has been cooked with Azuki red beans, which is called “Sekihan (赤飯: literally red rice)”. 

Sekihan Azuki Red Beans

In Japan, the red-colored rice, Sekihan is eaten during celebrations or at auspicious occasions, such as “New Year’s Day”, “Seijin no Hi (成人の日: Coming-of-Age Day)”, or “Children’s Day (こどもの日: May 5)”.

Sekihan: The Meaning of Red Rice in Japan

As for history, it is said that, in ancient times of Japan, there was a custom of offering red rice to deities, and the cooked rice is considered to have been distributed to people after the offering.

Torii Gateways

One primary reason why the red rice Sekihan is offered to the deities is that in Japan the color red has been believed to have the power of driving away evil spirits since the old days, as you can see from Torii, the gate located at the entrance to the Shinto shrine.

Additionally, the red rice is said to also have a religious meaning and is sometimes prepared for bad news and memorial services as well, even though it is usually made on festive days.

The Meaning of Goma-Shio

Sekihan with Gomashio

As for the eating manner, we usually sprinkle the sesame salt seasoning “Goma Shio (ごましお)” over Sekihan before eating, and the use of Goma Shio actually also has a meaning.

A long time ago, Japanese rice had a reddish color, but in modern times, we can eat white rice on a daily basis thanks to selective breeding.

And for that reason, today Sekihan is colored with red beans. But in a sense, that is deceiving the deities. Actually, “to deceive” is translated as “Gomakasu (誤魔化す)” in Japanese, which includes the word “Goma (ごま)”

In short, Goma-Shio is the condiment that is associated with the phrase “Gomakasu (誤魔化す)”, because of which, it is said the sesame salt is prepared for the red rice Sekihan.

(Reference Page: Wikipedia 赤飯 )


Hi, I'm Tomo, a Japanese blogger living in Niigata Prefecture, Japan. For the purpose of enriching your life, I would like to introduce things about Japan on this blog, especially unique Japanese products, cooking recipes, cultures, and facts and trivia.

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