Welcoming Back the Sun — Japanese Solstice Traditions
Happy Winter Solstice!
The night of solstice marks the first day of winter; it's the longest night and shorter day of the year. This past weekend, we attended a Winter Solstice Celebration at the Japanese Tea Garden at Fabyan Forest Preserve here in Geneva, IL hosted by our local historical preservation foundation, Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley.
Like it is in much of the world, celebrating the winter solstice, or tōji, is a culturally significant occasion in Japan. It is a time for reflection, renewal, and celebrating the return of the sun. The sun has special place in Japanese culture, the land of the rising sun, because according to tradition, the Shinto sun goddess, Amaterasu, founded Japan 2,700 years ago, and the Japanese emperors are considered to be “Sons of the Sun.”
Bonfires, or hi-no-hi, which are believed to purify the air and bring warmth to the community, are lit to mark the occasion. The bonfires are often accompanied by traditional music and dance performances.
During the winter solstice, many people in Japan take a yuzu bath as a way to relax and warm up from the cold winter weather. The solstice yuzu bath that involves soaking in a hot bath scented with yuzu, a type of citrus fruit that is native to East Asia. Yuzu is often used in Japanese cooking to add flavor and aroma to food and drinks, and may have health benefits, including improving circulation and aiding digestion. The yuzu bath may be accompanied by warm drinks and snacks. It is a popular activity in Japan, and many people make a point of taking a yuzu bath every year on the winter solstice.
The winter solstice in Japan is a time of contemplation and renewal, and it is a reminder of the importance of staying warm and healthy during the colder months. To celebrate the solstice in the traditional Japanese way, consider trying out this simple tea recipe:
Tōji Solstice Tea
Serves 1 to 2
2 cups water
2 teaspoons loose leaf green tea
1 cinnamon stick
1 slice fresh ginger
1 star anise
1 cardamom pod
2 slices lemon
2 teaspoons honey (optional)
Bring the water to a boil in a small pot.
Add the cinnamon stick, ginger, star anise, cardamom pod, and clove to the pot.
Reduce the heat to low and let the tea simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat and add the green tea, letting steep for one to two minutes.
Strain the tea through a fine-mesh sieve.
Pour into tea cups and add the lemon slice and honey, if using.
This fragrant tea is the perfect way to warm up and celebrate the winter solstice. This tea is sure to bring a touch of warmth and comfort to your solstice celebrations!
Janae J. Almen is a professional music instructor, composer/sound artist, and published writer for both in-print and online media. She is the founder of Perennial Music and Arts and is passionate about sharing her love of music and arts as well as tea, coffee, baking, cooking, and culture.