Today is 冬至, or winter solstice, or touji in japanese, a time of the year where it has the shortest day and longest night. Actually technically it should be yesterday already since it's past 12 midnight.
Have you had your tangyuan?? Unfortunately, I haven't had it for a few years :( Because it is not the Japanese custom to have those yummy glutinous rice balls stuffed with peanuts or sesame boiled in sugared water. Instead, they eat pumpkins and take a bath with yuzu fruits. I have no idea why don't they eat tangyuan. Having pumpkin just doesn't do for me. I want the sweet goodness wrapped in a ball :< So i googled for the meaning.
So many pumpkins, i thought they were celebrating a second halloween.
Turns out eating pumpkin and taking a yuzu bath supposedly keep your core warm and help prevent catching a cold as they(?) are rich sources of vitamins and carotene. Such boring and practical reason????? -_- At least having tangyuan symbolises a happy family since it's yuan.
Actually there is another origin which claims eating anything that has the syllable n on this day will bring you good luck. Pumpkin written in kanji, 南瓜, is pronounced "nankin" and since it has a long shelf life (harvest in summer), people started to store it for winter consumption.
As for a yuzu bath, while it is true that the bath helps to facilitate blood flow and relief bad circulation, the fruit rind contains vitamin c for beauty purpose and the yuzu fragrance has a relaxing effect, the custom probably started from a play with the sound of the words of yuzu = 柚子 =「融通」がきく (having flexibility) and touji = 冬至 =「湯治」(therapeutic bath). How the two ideas of "flexibility" and "therapeutic bath" relate to each other, I do not know.
This is how (google image search link) you soak yourself in a yuzu bath. If my bathtub were so large...
You can float them around, slice them, squeeze the juice into the bath, tie them inside a net (makes cleaning up easier), peel the rind and scatter them like petals.
I chose to cut one yuzu, ate the super sour flesh (i love the sourness, but the super big seeds, argh no. they are like mini balls), put the rind in a sieve into my bath and soak myself in the water until i felt like something was biting my skin all over. fml.
So we are not advised to soak too long because apparently it can stimulate and sting the skin. Especially if you have sensitive skin. But at least i smell citrusy now~