Winter solstice and Christmas in Japan

In Japan, Christmas is no holiday. I have now a small break from work to write this; but later I return to work. Christmas Eve is apparently a day for dating (because the Christmas illumination look so romantic and the Christmas cake looks so “Kawai” and tasty, so perfect dating food) and there is this quite rude metaphor about single women as old Christmas cakes (because they spend Christmas Eve alone or something like that, and are not “consumed” Christmas cakes that are left behind the day after) at KFC, the chicken was sold out, because Japanese think it is a western tradition to eat chicken, and go to a western brand like KFC.

However there are practices in Japan related to winter solstice I learned about. And is Christmas not related with the winter solstice? So I like to share a bit about winter solstice in Japan.

The winter solstice is regarded as an important day in many places around the world. It is considered the day when the sun is reborn because each day gets longer after the solstice.

The winter solstice is expressed as “Ichiyou Raifuku” in Japanese, meaning the turning point from Yin to Yang–Yin and Yang are the positive and the negative in the principles of Chinese philosophy. It also means the day of “the return of spring,” when winter has gone and spring comes.

Actually, it becomes much colder after the winter solstice. In Japan, many practices to warm up and take care of ourselves have been passed on since the old days. Like taking hot baths. For me it is still strange to be back in late autumn feeling after spending time in snowy Norway last month.

And although I feel a bit of seasonal affection disorder by still working hard, I tell myself I will slow down when it is getting colder and I will take a long weekend trip to the holy mountains in January and February. However I try to have some reflective moments at my sitspot in a nearby park once or twice a week since I am back. But I have to say it is difficult to find a balance between what my nature tells me (slow down) and what my academic career asks me to do (work hard so you can graduate your PhD on time).

Some days ago I learned the Japanese call the winter solstice period Toji, where they engage in ceremonies including bonfires, pumpkin eating (they believe pumpkins bring good luck) and honoring of ancestors. On the actual solstice, bonfires are lit on Mt Fuji to welcome the return of the rising sun, which is also Japan’s national symbol.