K-12 Outreach for Japanese Culture: 12月 / December

This guide is designed for K to 12 instructors who teach Japanese culture and traditions.

冬至 / Toji (Winter Solstice)


この日、厄を払うために、人々は栄養の高い野菜などを食べ、香りの高い柚を風呂にいれ体を温め無業息災を祈ったという。野菜 は「ん」が二つつくものが好まれ、かぼちゃ(なんきん)が定番であった。ほかにもなんきん・れんこん・にんじん・ぎんなん・きんかん・かんてんなども食べ られていた。なぜ「ん」のつく食べ物が好まれていたかというと、「ん」と「運(うん)」をかけ、運がたくさんつく・取り込めると思われていたからだ。


In Japan, the winter solstice is called tōji, where the day is the shortest and the night is the longest of the year. There is little sunshine, which kills plants and harvests, so people in the past considered this day to be the “closest day to death,” coining from people’s fears of their daily lives. However, the winter solstice is also the day to celebrate the revival of farming. In ancient China, this was regarded as the New Year’s starting point. And in Japan, the Imperial Court held a party called “sakutan tōji.”

In order to ward off the misfortunes, people ate highly nutritious vegetables and bathed in hot water with yuzu, aromatic citrus fruits, to warm the body and to wish for good heath without diseases. Vegetables that end in the letter “n” were popular to eat at this time, such as the kabocha squash which used to be called “nankin.” Other vegetables such as renkon (lotus roots), ninjin (carrots), ginan (ginkgo seeds), kinkan (kumquats) and kanten (agar-agar) were being eaten. People ate these vegetables because it was believed to bring “un” or good luck, which was a play in words with the letter “n.” People wanted to consume as much “un” or good luck as much as possible.  

The tradition to take a hot bath with yuzu fruits started from the word play, 冬至 Tōji (winter solstice) and 湯治 tōji (a treatment to fix health problems by continuously going to hot springs). Placing the yuzu plant comes from another word play, yuzu (citrus fruit) and yūzū (flexibility), wishing for flexibility in life.

冬至の七草 / Seven foods eaten during Tōji 

冬至と和菓子/ Toji to Wagashi (Winter Solstice and Sweets)


December is the month with the shortest day of the year, tōji or winter solstice. People enjoy taking a "yuzu-yu" bath where yuzu fruits float in the hot water. It is believed that yuzu-yu cures dry skin, helps blood circulation and prevents colds. During this season, the whole yuzu fruit are used in making Japanese sweets.
Recently, traditional Japanese confectioneries are also designed into unique motifs such as Christmas tree and Santa Clause, celebrating the Christmas season.

柚子を使った和菓子 / Wagashi made with yuzu citrus

クリスマスケーキ / Japanese Christmas cake

ゆず風呂 / Yuzu Buro (Hot Bath with Yuzu)

Some zoos in Japan provide hot baths for their animals on a cold day. The video shows capybaras taking a hot bath in yuzu

ゆず / Yuzu fruit