Sekihan (赤飯)



Seki (赤) means Red, and Han (飯) means rice. So Sekihan means Red Rice. It is glutinous rice, also known as short grain rice or glutinous rice, steamed with Azuki beans. Azuki is naturally red, so cooking with Azuki beans gives a red color to the white rice. It is commonly served as a celebratory dish in Japan. 

Why is it a celebratory dish?

About 3000 years ago, the first rice was brought from the Asian continent into Japan. Although the rice wasn’t pearly white like the one we eat today. Instead, it was beautiful red-colored rice. From ancient times, the color red was believed to have a power against evil spirits. So when there was a misfortune, people used rice as an offering during the divine work, and ate cooked rice to protect themselves from evil. This custom has shifted into eating red rice when there is a celebration and wishing there won’t be any misfortune in the future. 

Why Azuki beans?

Around Kamakura Era (1185 – 1333), people started to discover different varieties of rice, and selectively bred them throughout history. So ancient rice with high tannin became less popular and eventually disappeared from cultivation. Now rice is pearly white, but the culture still remains the same. Therefore, people added azuki beans to add red color to the rice. 

What celebration to serve Sekihan? 

Here are the most common celebrations to serve sekihan.
  • Wedding
  • Celebration related to pregnancies and births 
  • Shichi Go San (七五三): A day of prayer for the healthy growth of young children at ages 7, 5, and 3. 
  • Celebration of 1st year in school
  • Graduation 
  • New employment 
  • Coming of age celebration: In Japan, 20 years old is considered an Adult. 
  • Celebration of Longevity: The celebration starts from age 61, 70, 77, 80, 88, 90, 99, and 100. Each celebration has a unique name. 
There are other occasions people serve Sekihan. We can serve Sekihan whenever there is a celebration, either officially or non-officially. If you see someone cooking sekihan, that means congratulations are in order!