December 22nd is winter solstice in Japan. Today, the northern hemisphere of our earth began tilting towards the sun. Days will be getting longer from tomorrow — ever so slightly in the beginning, and getting more noticeable day by day.
In Japanese calendar, winter solstice is called “Toji” and it marks the mid-winter. From today, winter is on its way out and the promise of spring is in the air.
There are several Japanese traditions connected with winter solstice. One of them is the festivities held to celebrate the reemergence of Amaterasu, the sun goddess of Japanese mythology. On this day, she came out from her seclusion in a cave, thereby restoring sunlight to the world. Around this time of the year, the traditional mythic stories are depicted by “Kagura” dancers throughout Japan.
There are other traditions connected with warding off evil and catching a cold. The most popular one is taking a hot yuzu (Japanese citron) bath. Yuzu is a highly fragrant Japanese citrus fruit with a flavor somewhat between that of a grapefruit and an orange, and its flesh, peel and juice are used for numerous purposes such as making cosmetics, garnishing foods and as essential oil for relieving stress and fatigue.
The next major event in Japanese calendar will be the beginning of spring on February 4 (Risshun.) Around the beginning of February days get longer at their fastest rate. Pretty pink plum blossoms begin to bloom, and you can hear the lovely songs of Japanese nightingales (uguisu) fill the air throughout the countryside, heralding the glory of the coming of the spring.
Winter is half over today. And spring is coming. Hurrrrray!!!