Writer: Yumiko Ishimaru
Kombu has been regarded as a “good luck” food because the pronunciation of “yorokobu – to be happy and glad” is similar to yoro-kombu. Therefore, kombu is often used at joyful events such as weddings or New Years celebrations.
Some people say that kombu used to be called “hirome” which means “wide kelp.” In Japanese “wedding reception” is called “ohirome,” and this “ohirome” is supposed to be originated from the word, “hirome”. There is a happy event called “yuinou” that signifies a wedding engagement. Kombu is used at yuinou as well because it is believed that kombu has powers of fertility and can help produce healthy babies.
Also in the age of civil wars, military commanders used to eat kombu as good luck before battle saying “Uchikachi Yorokobu” (Win and become happy). It was just a “goroawase” wordplay; however, I am sure it wasn’t actually a fun game for commanders before a battle… It was a traditional ceremony before and after battles; they ate awabi (abalone) first, kachi-guri (dried chestnut) next, and kombu last. This ceremony is called “Ichi ni uchiawabi, ni ni kachikuri, san ni yorokombu.”
Kombu also has a connection to the Japanese national sport, sumo. Actually there are a lot of Japanese people don’t know that things called “shizumemono – buried things” are buried in the center of the sumo ring at the sumo ring festival. The shizumemono are dried chestnut, kombu, rice, dried squid, salt, Japanese nutmeg, etc. They represent the wish for no injuries or accidents during sumo tournaments.
For New Year’s Day, called “shogatsu,” we display “kagami-mochi” that has kombu on the top as offerings to the gods and Buddha. Kombu has been used as a good luck item from a long, long time ago.
My mother serves us a cup of tea called “fukucha” which is made of kombu, black beans, Japanese peppers, and umeboshi or pickled plum on December 31st. Drinking this tea signifies gratitude for a happy past year and wishes for another happy and healthy year. Its simple flavor ends the year very nicely.