What Is the Cultural Aspect of Soba in Japan?

What is cultural aspect of “soba” noodle?

When comparing Tokyo and Osaka, it is said that Tokyoites prefer soba or buckwheat noodles while Osakans prefer udon or flour noodles.  Nevertheless, if we talk only of the last day of the year, both Tokyoites and Osakans probably go for toshikoshi soba (New Year’s Eve’s buckwheat noodles) instead of udon.  This custom of eating buckwheat noodles on New Year’s Eve is said to have begun during the middle of the Edo period (1600 to 1867).

The Reason for Eating Soba on New Year's Eve

So why soba?  There are many theories as to why soba is eaten on the night of New Year's Eve. According to one theory, it is because soba is easy to cut, and it is thought to be a good way to get rid of the old year's hardships and bad luck.

Another theory is that with the long, thin shape of soba being associated to a long life, it is often explained as “Eating soba will give you a long life” and “New Year’s Eve’s buckwheat noodles are a prayer for a long life.”  Be that as it may, if soba’s long, thin shape is associated with a long life, it should be the same even if udon is eaten instead.  There are probably other reasons why buckwheat noodles are eaten on New Year’s Eve.

Another Plausible Reason for Eating Soba on New Year's Eve

There are several explanations for the origin of New Year Eve’s buckwheat noodles.  Among them, the theory from the superstition of “Eating soba will increase your luck in money” is well known.   At first glance, there may seem to be no special relationship between soba and money.  However, during the Edo period when the custom of eating New Year’s Eve’s buckwheat noodles began, there was a close connection between soba and gold.

soba illustration
soba illustration

During the Edo period, goldsmiths would wipe off their workbenches with soba flour when hammering out gold to make gold leaf.  Wiping off the workbenches with soba flour would make them more slippery making it easier for the gold to spread out.  From this, soba flour “spreads gold” changed to “makes money.”

In addition, water was added to soba flour and kneaded into dough which was then used to collect the gold dust that had flaked off during the gold working process.  The kneaded soba flour was sticky.  When it was pushed against the gold dust, the gold dust would adhere to the soba flour.  Then, by putting the soba flour containing the gold dust into water, the soba flour would dissolve allowing the heavier gold dust to sink to the bottom.  This collection method using soba flour enabled even the tiniest gold dust that flaked off during the gold working process to be collected without any trouble.   Soba flour that was thus recognized as an item that “collects gold dust” overtime became to be considered as a lucky item that “accumulates money.”

Other Interesting Info About Soba

Hikkoshi soba (tradition of giving buckwheat noodles to new neighbors after a house move) is also said to have its origins in the superstition that soba increases one’s luck with money.  That is, soba as a lucky item of increasing one’s luck with money was ideal for creating a favorable impression when meeting someone for the first time.

Soba is considered to be one of the most popular Japanese foods, but in fact it is eaten in some other countries as well. In Slovenia, the annual consumption of soba is higher than in Japan, and it is eaten every day.

Slovenian Soba Dish
Slovenian Soba Dish

Relate article: wankosoba

2 thoughts on “What Is the Cultural Aspect of Soba in Japan?

  1. Thankyou for your practical advice on what is usually a forgotten topic. Can I link this with my people?

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