Yuzu, Kabocha and the Japanese Winter Solstice Tradition

On December 21, is Winter Solstice, marking the beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere.

My friend Noriko told me about the tradition of Toji 冬至, the winter solstice in Japan. This special day is traditionally considered an important moment to take care of oneself by having a bath with yuzu fruit 柚子  [Yoo-zoo], a Japanese citrus rarely eaten as a fruit. Yuzu is commonly used as an ingredient of Japanese cuisine to flavor dishes, pretty much like lemon zest.

Also, during Toji, it is tradition eating kabocha, an Asian variety of winter squash. Both yuzu and kabocha promise to protect the body against colds.

Now I want to share with you these two Japanese winter mustsyuzu-yu and simmered kabocha uses . Also, I would love to hear about your experience if you already tried it yet!

How do yuzu and kabocha protect the body?

Noriko told me that 柚子湯 ‘yuzu-yu’ literally means ‘yuzu’ and ‘hot water’, meaning a bath with yuzu fruit.

The yuzu fruit, traditionally used in Japan to make Yuzu-yu at the Winter solstice.
Yuzu cut in a half to be added to the Winter solstice bath, according the Japanese tradition Toji

On Winter solstice day, in Japan, «we use to take a bath with some yuzu fruits cut in half in order to let yuzu flesh dissolve into the bath and the fragrance of the essential oils in the zest evaporate. We believe that this bath is good for our health, helping blood circulation, eliminating toxins, and relieving skin conditions.

Yuzu-yu prepares both body and mind to the roughness of winter


TV and the press also remind people that this is the time to take yuzu-yu bath and eat kabocha. Yuzu-yu smells so good and is so relaxing! ».

In Japan, in this period of the year, you can find yuzu almost everywhere. Nowadays, ready-to-use Yuzu herbal bath packs are also available on the Japanese market.

Today, Japanese and Korean leading cosmetics manufacturers use yuzu in their skincare products. Several western cosmetics brands use yuzu extracts as active ingredients and famous perfumers choose yuzu as in their fragrances.

« On winter solstice day we use to eat kabocha, which is very important in the Japanese culture. It is harvested at the end of summer and early fall and can be kept for months. Japanese people use to eat this variety of pumpkin during the cold days of winter preparing it in different ways. Most often, we prepare simmered kabocha with soya sauce and add the zest of yuzu at the end of simmering as garnishment. Every single Japanese knows this simple and essential dish for toji ».

Kabocha has a delicious chestnut taste. You can also simply steam kabocha because its version nature is so tasty as well. 

How to make Simmered Kabocha

For 4 persons you need a whole kabocha, depending on its size.

The skin is edible and you can leave a part of it as garnishment. 

Wash the kabocha and then peel it leaving part of the peel. Cut your kabocha into 3-4 cm pieces.

Put about a cup of water (250 ml) in a pot, and add sugar about 4 tbsp of sugar and 1 tbsp of soy sauce. Kabocha has natural sweet flavor so you can add less sugar than indicated, if you wish. Put the kabocha pieces into a saucepan. Bring the blend to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook slowly. Kabocha is ready to eat when it becomes tender, that is after about 15 minutes.

Simmered kabocha has a delicious chestnut, sweet potato and taro flavor and texture.

Wishing you a Happy Winter Solstice!

About Valentina

Valentina is an international communication consultant. She has served communication and PR agencies for several years by providing insights into local French and Italian food trends and traditions. Thanks to her multicultural background, she focuses on promoting intercultural collaboration for sustainable living.