Now, it is in December.
December is called "shiwasu" meaning that even a priest is running because he is very busy preparing for the coming New Year.
Today, in December, we send year-end gifts to a go-between or our superiors, give a year-end party with fellow workers or drinking pals, enjoy Xmas festive atmosphere, do a house cleaning, write New Year's cards, and shop around for New Year's Eve and the New Year holidays. In addition, December 23 became a national holiday to celebrate the present Emperor's birthday in 1989. Thus, December is the busiest month for everybody in Japan. Herein, I would like to share poetic touches of the winter with you.
At the end of a year, year-end gifts are presented to express appreciation for favors received during the past year. It is called Seibo, or end of the year, which is presented to a match maker, family doctor, or a teacher of traditional arts such as flower arrangement. Seibo used to be delivered wholeheartedly by hand, but today, most of people often order department stores to deliver it somewhat from a sense of obligation. Together with Chugen , or summer gift, seibo is accepted as a gift-giving occasion, but seibo is more important than chugen.
If you happen to stay in Tokyo around December 23, visit the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. On this day, December 23, lots of people visit the Imperial Palace, to offer prayers for the Emperor's good health and long life. The emperor and the Imperial family members appear on the balcony of the palace to greet the visitors at the fixed times.
New Year's greeting card
The Japanese custom of sending nenga-jou or a New Year's card is somewhat similar to the Western practice of exchanging Christmas cards. If we post nenga-jou by December 25, they are guaranteed to be delivered to recipients early on the morning of New Year's Day for wishing one's relatives, friends, and business acquaintances a happy New Year. These days, howver, traditional nenga-jou by post has been gradually replaced with nenga-jou by e-mail.
Touji or the very day of the winter solstice, falls on December 21 for this year. The daytime is the shortest in the year, then the real cold arrives. So against cold air, we have traditions to eat oka-yu or rice porridge with red beans, to eat kabocha or squash and have a bath with Yuzu or citron.
Kabocha or squash was imported to the Kyushu, southern part of Japan, in the 16 th century. From then, we also have the tradition to eat it on the very winter solstice. In the winter of those days when fresh vegetables ran short, we wanted vitamins. Kabocha harvested in the summer keeps well by the middle of the winter. If we eat kabocha on this day, it is a commonplace to say that we do not suffer from an apoplectic stroke. Interestingly, the name of kabocha came from the fact that it originally came from Cambodia by a Portuguese vessel. Japanese squash has uneven skin. What is a shape of squash in your country?
Yuzu or citron has the shape of oval and lumpy skin. It ripens into light yellow from late-autumn to winter, having a scent and acid taste. So, the flesh is squeezed into vinegar and sprinkled on the Japanese nabe or pot, and the sliced skins are floated on soup dishes. For yuzu-yu or citron bathing, citrons whole are thrown into a bathtub. We enjoy taking a hot bath filled with the fragrance. A saying goes; if we take the bath with yuzu , we never catch a cold throughout a year.
Now, yuzu reminds me of mikan, must-to-eat fruit in the winter in Japan. Mikan has an appearance of the shape circle and orange-colored smooth skin quite differently from yuzu . Among a wide variety of mikan in Japan, unshuu-mikan is representative one which has been cultivated in Kagoshima from the beginning of the Edo period. It has less seeds, and is easy to peel off the skin and to eat.
During the winter , mikan used to be always placed on a table of kotatsu , or a low, quilt-covered frame with an electric heater inside. After an evening meal, all family members would gather around kotatsu with their feet inside it , chat over the table, and eat mikan. These days, modern houses have a centralized heating system, and everybody of a family tends to go into each room and stay alone. Thus we have been losing such a traditional happy opportunity to deepen family ties.
I am not a salesman for mikan, but I'll give you the efficacy of mikan;
Mikan contains 75% moisture, plus vitamin C, pectin and carotene. We have a saying "When a mikan turns to yellow, a doctor turns pale". This indicates that people has more appetite and is in good shape around the season when mikan turns yellow, so few patients consult a doctor.
A leaflet attached to a net bag of mikan describes its benefits, "it's tasty, healthy and a treasure of nutrients".
Among nutrients, the outstanding one is β- cryptoxanthin, a kind of carotenoid, which is the coloring matter of the orange color. It has a strong antioxidation, eliminating active oxygen, and being helpful for prevention for lifestyle-related illness and skin care.
Let's go into more details, if you don't mind;
* Mikan contains β - cryptoxanthin for efficacy of strong cancer inhibition, 5times as strong as one of carrots. So a piece of mikan per day is efficient for cancer prevention.
* Mikan improves physical conditions of people suffering from high blood pressure because of a lot of plant fiber, pectin, having an effect to lower a cholesterol level in the blood and an anti-obesity effect.
* Mikan's hesperidin is very effective for atopy dermatitis, asthma nettle rash by strengthening blood capillary and blood vessel. It lowers blood pressure rise / cholesterol level , and decomposes neutral fat in the blood, and prevents cancer of the large intestine.
* Mikan's hesperidin in a section is 50times as much as one in the flesh. Hesperidin in cords on mikan's section is 300times as much as one in the flesh. So it seems to be better for us to eat it together with cords.
* Mikan has been considered to be a specific remedy for cold from old times. Not only a peel but also the flesh has the efficacy. Vitamin P in mikan has good prevention for cold or stroke. Mikan's synephrine has action to loosen muscle of the bronchi and it is good for the throat's cold. For example, to eat baked mikan warms up the body and brewed mikan lessens coughing or aching of throat.
* Mikan' s skin is very useful for the body in the bath. wash the skin of eaten Mikan, and dry it in the shade for 7 to 10days. Gather skins for 5-6 pieces of mikan into a cloth bag and put it in a hot bath water. Mikan's essential oil component spreads blood capillary. It improves the circulation of the blood and warms up the body. Be careful!! The oil component in the mikan's skin has limonene causing inflammation on the fragile skin. It is recommendable to wash away the body with fresh water after taking the bath. Both Limonene / Terpenoid, components of scent, have a tranquilizing property.
Among my family, there are three types of eating mikan . I peel off the skin and eat mikan, a section and all fibers. My son eats it after cleaning off white fibers on the surface completely. My wife eats only the pulp after taking off a section and fivers. Some puts it with a section in the mouth, eats the flesh only and spits out others skillfully. Which way do you prefer to?
Finally, here are two ways of enjoying Mikan;
A writing done in invisible ink
Squeeze juice from the skin of a mikan, with which letters are written or a picture is drawn on a piece of washi, or Japanese paper. Then, it is dried to turn white. When it is held over the fire and dried, the letters or pictures appear on the surface of the paper. It is simple but one of traditional play for children.
Aroma therapy of Mikan
Scent of mikan calms down the mind, sharpens the appetite and cheers up people.
When you go out from your hotel, please drop in a fruit shop for fresh mikan. Enjoy the taste and scent of mikan in your warm room to work off your strain of a long journey at night and to remove jet lag in the morning.