Baths and Ice and All Things Nice
As we come into winter and the cold seeps in, nothing is as relaxing as a warming bath and hot comfort food. A few days before Christmas, there is a Japanese tradition to experience just that on the solstice. This day is called Touji.
What is Touji
On the 22nd of December, Japan celebrates a little known holiday called Touji. It’s not quite as famous as Christmas or New Year but has its own charm and is easy to practice. The traditions primarily focus on warmth and comfort, making it the perfect time to relax in the lead up to Christmas.
The first of these traditions is a hot spring bath. This originates from the Japanese language because toji, 湯治, or hot spring cure, sounds similar to Touji. Therefore on the solstice, it’s customary to visit the hot springs.
This brings us to the second bit of wordplay. In Japanese, when we say it improves blood flow, they say that the blood ‘flows smoothly’ around the body. The Japanese for smooth is yuzu, 融通, which is why they’re called Yuzu baths. There's also a type of citrus fruit, similar to lemons, called yuzu, so the baths are filled with them. The fruit also adds a lot of beneficial substances to the bath, and the fragrant smells are said to even drive off demons!
It isn’t just the tourists and locals who visit the hot springs in winter; some northern springs have extraordinary guests. In Jigokudani Monkey Park, red-faced monkeys bathe in the natural pools to stay warm, drawing thousands of tourists every year. Their flushed faces even look like they’ve been in the bath too long!
If you don’t fancy sharing a bath with a monkey, then many hot spring towns are also great for skiing. Wintertime in Japan is also famous for its excellent ski slopes and huge ice festivals. These towns are busy during winter and making some time on Touji for skiing and a Yuzu bath is the perfect antidote to cold weather.
The baths aren’t the only Touji tradition. In ancient Japan, people would keep kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin, after the summer harvest and save them to eat in winter. The pumpkin is delicious and warming, making it the perfect comfort food. Nowadays, it’s still traditional to eat kabocha on Touji, creating a delightful end to the day after a bath.
The other Touji specialist foods involve more wordplay. As winter is the end of the year, the wordplay is based around endings. ん, nn, is the last character of Japanese hiragana, so any food with a name ending in ん is lucky on Touji. These foods are called unmori, 運盛り, and there are many of them, including daikon radish, udon noodles and ninjin carrots. The traditional Touji recipes generally mix unmori together, creating a wide variety of dishes.
The last Touji tradition takes place in the evening. As night falls, snow-covered lanterns and candles are lit down paths and throughout villages. The glow of these lights produces a beautiful and unique effect that makes it a fantastic experience to walk among. There’s no better way to step into the new year.
Touji mixes comfort, warmth and beauty to make a truly unique and lovely holiday. Whether you’re in Japan or elsewhere, taking time out of a busy life for a hot citrusy bath and warming food is the perfect way to celebrate the solstice.