Sekihan : The Japanese Tradition of Eating Red Rice

Have you ever heard that we Japanese traditionally prepare sticky red-colored glutinous rice steamed with Azuki red beans in celebration of something?

The traditional red glutinous rice is called “Sekihan (赤飯)” in Japan, which literally means red rice in Japanese.

Sekihan Red Rice with Azuki Beans

If I give some examples of when we eat Sekihan, we customarily have it on “New Year’s Day”, “Seijin no Hi (成人の日 : Coming-of-Age Day)”, and “Children’s Day (こどもの日 : May 5)”, each of which is an occasion for celebration in Japan.

The Meaning of Sekihan Red Rice

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

Torii Gateways

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

Besides, 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 typically made on festive days.

The Meaning of Goma-Shio for Sekihan

As for the eating manner, before eating, we usually sprinkle the Japanese sesame rice seasoning “Goma Shio (ごましお : Sesame Salt)” over the red rice.

A long time ago, the rice that the Japanese consumed as a staple food had a reddish color. However, in modern times we eat white rice on a daily basis thanks to the breed improvement.

Because of this, in order to hide the fact from the deities that the rice for Sekihan is colored with a red color, it is said that we came to use “Goma (ごま : sesame seeds)”.

In other words, that is to deceive the gods and goddesses. “To deceive” is translated as “Gomakasu (誤魔化す)” in Japanese, which actually includes the Japanese word “Goma (ごま)” meaning sesame seeds.

Gomashio is the rice seasoning associated with the phrase “Gomakasu (誤魔化す)”, and because of this we traditionally season the red-colored rice Sekihan with the sesame salt.

(Reference page of this article : Wikipedia 赤飯 )


Hi, I'm Tomo, a Japanese blogger living in Niigata Prefecture, Japan. 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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