Japan's Lucky Direction sushi a traditional mouthful

Fri Feb 3, 2012 5:32am EST
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By Ruairidh Villar

TOKYO (Reuters) - Gobbling down a huge sushi roll in one go on Japan's February 3 end-of-winter festival is thought to bring good fortune -- just as long as you don't speak while you eat and remember to face the right way.

"Ehomaki," or "Lucky Direction" sushi rolls, are mammoth versions of the toothsome, seaweed-wrapped rice rolls that are a popular part of sushi meals. Roughly 6 cm (2.3 inches) in diameter and 20 cm (8 inches) long, they contain everything from egg, fish and vegetables to slices of fried pork cutlet.

The important thing is to take them in hand and eat, silently, while facing the proper direction -- this year, north-northwest.

Nobody really knows why or how the tradition evolved, though, only that it seems to have first appeared in the western city of Osaka.

"One of the theories for where Lucky Sushi Day came from is, well, men would make prostitutes in Osaka eat large sushi rolls and they'd watch that for a laugh," food analyst Minako Murakoshi told Reuters.

"There's some evidence for that but of course there are other theories as well."

A more likely explanation is that they were first whipped up by food stalls in Osaka in the mid-1800s. Then, a century later, a local seaweed retailer turned that into a regional tradition through sushi-eating contest and prizes for the largest sushi roll as a way to kick-start sales.

In more recent years, they've been seized upon by Japanese convenience store chains as a seasonal money spinner to fill the gap between Christmas and Valentine's Day.   Continued...