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What is the Winter Solstice?

The Origins of a Unique Japanese Foods and Customs

The Winter Solstice of 2021 falls on December 22. Do you know that there are some special foods eaten on the winter solstice in Japan, which is the turning point for enduring the cold and welcoming spring? There is also the custom of taking a bath with yuzu, a seasonal fruit. Here are some of the unique Japanese traditions related to the winter solstice, where we take in foods that make sense nutritionally and pray for the health of our beloved family and friends.

Table of Contents

1. What is the Winter Solstice?

2. Japanese Winter Solstice Customs 1

Great for Health and Beauty! Yuzu (Japanese citron) bath

3. Japanese Winter Solstice Custom 2

Full of Nutrition! Itoko-ni and Azuki Porridge

4. Japanese Winter Solstice Custom 3

Eat for Good Luck! Nana-Kusa (Seven Kinds of Winter Foods)


1. What is the Winter Solstice?

The winter solstice is when daylight hours are the shortest, and the sun's mid-south altitude is the lowest. It is caused by the position of the Earth and the Sun. The winter solstice falls on or around December 22, and next year, 2022, it will be on December 22 as well. In Japan, the daylight hours will be about five hours shorter than the summer solstice.

The Winter Solstice is the opposite of the Summer Solstice, which has the most prolonged daytime hours in the year. The power of the sun, the source of life, is weakened the most at the Winter Solstice, and it has been feared since ancient times as the day when we feel closest to death. In fact, in the days when we didn't have such a blessed environment as we do today, with heaters and warm clothes, the cold itself would have been a time that made people feel so close to death.

2. Japanese Winter Solstice Customs 1

Great for Health and Beauty! Yuzu (Japanese citron) bath

However, the daylight hours, which are the shortest at the winter solstice, become longer and longer as we head toward spring. The winter solstice is the turning point of the transition from the bottom to the upward slope. For this reason, the custom of soaking in hot water with yuzu floating in the bath was born in Japan as a form of misogi (purification ceremony) to switch waning luck into good fortune.

It is said that "yuzu-yu(hot bath with yuzu)" started as a seasonal event in public baths during the Edo period (1603-1868), and there is nothing like soaking in a bath with a fresh scent and bright yellow yuzu floating in the water during the cold season. The Japanese word for "winter solstice" is "toji 冬至 ," and is also a reference to and the same pronunciation with "toji 湯治," the healing of illness by soaking in hot water. Japanese people have always loved playing with words.

Yuzu is in season in winter, and yuzu-yu is a well-established ritual to ward off evil spirits and exorcise bad luck before bringing in future luck. Of course, yuzu-yu can be used to warm up the body, promote blood circulation to relieve coldness, and prevent colds, as well as for the healing effects of its citrus aroma.However, the juice does contain acid, so please be careful if you have sensitive skin.