Sunday, December 22, 2013

Toji (Winter Solstice)

Yesterday, December 21st, was the Winter Solstice here (it's the 22nd in Japan.) We had our first snow this week, which seemed appropriate. Known as "toji" in Japan, the winter solstice is a time for traditional practices that are typically meant to ward off disease in the coming winter season. The most common is that of putting yuzu fruit into the bath to prevent catching colds in winter. Yuzu are a small, yellow citrus fruit that are unfortunately not available here in the Pacfic NW United States. Growing up here, my mother used to always put in the Satsuma Mikan (Satsuma Oranges, like a Clementine) that were imported from Japan in those days, specifically from Kagoshima Prefecture, whose pre-modern Provincial name was Satsuma. Although whole yuzu are used in Japan, we used to just throw in the peels and eat the oranges themselves. I try to keep this tradition going with my children. The Mikan these days are most likely grown in California, and we can also purchase yuzu shibori (yuzu juice) at an Asian market. I add a few drops of this just for the fragrance (and possibly for whatever magical powers these possess that created this tradition in the first place.)

I don't think anyone really knows where the tradition actually comes from, but a natural connection to Vitamin C certainly comes to  mind. Although this is done is many Japanese households still today, it is a somewhat dying tradition. In the past, when communal bathing was a public necessity, hot springs and public baths also dumped loads of yuzu into their baths to attract customers. I'm sure it's still done in some places. Another practice is to put azuki beans in the bath, for the same purpose. This one I haven't tried yet. If anyone has, and if it works, let me know. Happy Toji to all of you!

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