8 November 2023
Celebrating Toji: The Winter Solstice in Japanese Culture
As the end of the year approaches and the evenings grow dark earlier, we prepare for the winter solstice's arrival. In Japan, this time, known as Toji, is distinguished by traditions such as bathing in yuzu-scented hot water and savoring pumpkin dishes pumpkin. There are intriguing reasons behind these unique cultural practices in Japan, which are worth exploring to understand their significance and origins.
- What is Toji?
- Yuzu Bath Tradition
- Pumpkin Traditions
- Fortune-filled Foods Ending with "N"
What is Toji?
Toji is the day of the year with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night. In 2023, December 22nd marks the winter solstice.
The winter solstice is also known as Ichiyou Raifuku, which signifies the return of the sun's warmth. In ancient China and Japan, the winter solstice was feared as the day when the sun's power was at its weakest. Yet, it was also considered a time when the sun began to regain its strength, symbolizing an upward turn.
The timing of the winter solstice is determined by the sun's position and is thus a universal occurrence. Ancient civilizations with a long history of astronomy, like Mesopotamia and China, had periods when the solstice and the days around it marked the new year's beginning. It's fascinating that across different regions, religions, and cultures, unique customs have developed around this global event.
Yuzu Bath Tradition
When it comes to winter solstice customs, the yuzu bath is prominent. The Toto Saijiki, a book published in 1838 detailing the annual events of Edo (present-day Tokyo), mentions that on the winter solstice, bathhouses would prepare baths with yuzu. Though bathing daily wasn't common in the Edo period as it is today, the practice of taking a yuzu bath began as a purification ritual and to attract good fortune, resonating with the concept of Ichiyou Raifuku.
Indeed, yuzu peel contains citric acid and vitamin C, which are known to aid in fatigue recovery. It has been traditionally said that "taking a yuzu bath will prevent colds for a year," and its benefits for improving blood circulation and alleviating cold sensitivity have been scientifically proven. Why not take a moment on the winter solstice to rejuvenate yourself with a relaxing yuzu bath?
For a yuzu bath, you can either put whole yuzu into the hot water or cut them into slices or halves for a stronger fragrance and release of their beneficial properties. However, doing so can result in seeds and pulp floating in the bathtub after some time, so it's easier to clean up if you put them in a gauze bag.
Another well-known winter solstice tradition is eating pumpkin. Pumpkins, harvested at their peak in July and August, can be stored at room temperature over extended periods.
Pumpkins are rich in vitamins, minerals, calcium, and dietary fiber. In times past, it wasn't easy to consume vegetables year-round, so eating nutritious, storable pumpkins on the winter solstice was a way for Japanese ancestors to prepare for the harsh winter.
Fortune-filled Foods Ending with "N"
It is also said to be good to eat foods ending with the syllable "n" during the winter solstice. These foods are considered to bring good fortune, known as Un mori in Japanese. Foods with two "n" sounds are believed to double one's fortune and are auspicious, referred to as Toji no Nanakusa, or the seven herbs of the winter solstice.
The seven include:
and renkon "lotus root."
To prepare for the New Year
The winter solstice coincides with the hustle and bustle of the year-end, and one might feel a bit worn out. But as we pass this longest night, the days will start to grow longer, and the sunlight will stretch further into each day as we slowly move towards spring.
The new year is on the horizon. Let's prepare for it, hoping for a good one ahead.