Yuzu Baths for Warding Off Colds (and Evil Spirits!)

Yuzu Baths for Warding Off Colds (and Evil Spirits!)

Want more UJ? Get our FREE newsletter 

Need a preview? See our archives

Capybara in a yuzu bath
Picture: daysgoby_JPN / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Yuzu is a popular winter citrus fruit for more than its taste. Learn about the origin and benefits of relaxing yuzu baths!

Winter was one of my favorite times of the year when I lived in Japan. But it wasn’t because of the holidays (and certainly not because of the harsh cold). Winter marked the peak season of one of my absolute favorite fruits, yuzu, as well as one of my favorite winter traditions – yuzu baths. 

I loved the versatility of this fruit and enjoyed everything from yuzu teas to yuzu sweets to yuzu-scented aromatherapy products. Even now, living overseas in the States, I always look forward to this time of the year when the local Japanese market stocks up on all of my favorite seasonal yuzu goods.

Let’s learn a little more about this delicious little fruit, and how the tradition of Winter Solstice yuzu baths came to be.

What Is Yuzu?

Yuzu is a small citrus fruit (citron in English), originating in East Asia over 1200 years ago, specifically around China and Tibet. It entered Japan sometime between the Asuka Period (593–710) and Nara Period (710-794). Japan is now where a majority of yuzu crops grow today. Half of all Japan’s yuzu production comes from Kochi Prefecture, an area now synonymous with yuzu. [3][5]

This small, yellow fruit is similar to a cross between a grapefruit and a lemon. However, people don’t only grow yuzu fruit for eating, but for medicinal purposes, as well. One other purpose is for use in a special kind of bath – yuzuyu (柚子湯), or a yuzu bath. [1]

Traditional Winter Solstice Yuzu Baths

The custom of soaking in hot water to remove impurities is believed to have originated with Buddhism. The practice spread throughout Japan with its introduction. This resulted in the establishment of sento, or public bathhouses, amongst the common people during the Edo Period (1603–1867). [4]

Advertisements

An old belief says that taking yuzu baths on the Winter Solstice (Toji) could protect one from catching a cold. However, the exact date of origin of the Winter Solstice yuzu bath is not clear.

The earliest mention of Winter Solstice yuzu baths appears in the Toto Saijiki (東都歳時記), an encyclopedia-like collection of events and traditions from the Edo Period. This suggests that the birth of the custom coincided with that of the public bathhouses. Its absence from Japanese classics like the Kojiki also suggests it originated with Buddhism, rather than Japan’s indigenous religion, Shinto. [2][3]

The image below shows an excerpt from the Toto Saijiki. The left page (green highlight) reads, “Today, heat up a yuzu bath at the public bathhouse” (今日、銭湯風呂屋にて柚湯を焚く). The right page (blue highlight) mentions a “Winter Solstice Star Festival” (冬至星祭).

excerpt from the Toto Saijiki, a collection of Japanese celebrations from the Edo Period
Excerpt from the Toto Saijiki, a collection of Japanese celebrations from the Edo Period. [3]

Many also attribute the spread of this custom to the ‘phonetic matching’ (goroawase/語呂合わせ, in Japanese) of the words ‘winter solstice’ (冬至) and ‘hot-spring cure’ (湯治), both of which you would pronounce as ‘toji’. [4]

Warding Off Colds (and Evil Spirits) with Yuzu Baths

People heralded yuzu as a powerful fruit for more than its medicinal properties and its ability to leave your skin silky smooth after a soak. It was also regarded as auspicious due to its bright, sunny color and strong, fresh fragrance. Many believed soaking in a yuzu bath on the Winter Solstice invited health and fortune for the new year. Some even believed the powerful aroma could ward off bad luck and exorcise evil spirits! [2]

Although not originally one of Japan’s traditional New Year’s celebrations, some people used these baths to purify themselves before entering the new year. Bathhouse owners began adding yuzu to their baths on Winter Solstice to attract more customers to their facilities. Eventually, the custom spread to more and more people, reaching not only other facilities, but people’s own homes.

Modern Day Yuzu Baths

The image of the traditional yuzu bath is one of entire yuzu fruits floating in the steaming hot water. However, many people prefer to cut the fruit in half before adding it to the water to allow more of the juices (and medicinal benefits) to seep into the water. You can also add a cloth bag of chopped yuzu to the water and let it steep. It’s like making a giant tub of yuzu tea!

Nowadays, many hot springs resorts and existing bathhouses hold promotional campaigns every winter, offering yuzu baths to customers. However, you can easily replicate traditional yuzuyu at by cutting your own fruit, or by buying yuzu-scented bath products. 

Why Take A Yuzu Bath?

Yuzu baths may be connected to a tradition, but the truth is, you can enjoy a nice relaxing yuzu bath any day of the year! There are a number of reasons to indulge in a soothing, citrus soak on any day, all winter long.

Yuzu offers a number of health and beauty benefits. It is rich in vitamin C (about 3 times as much as a lemon) and antioxidants, which may help boost the immune system and ward off colds and viruses. A yuzu bath also leaves the skin feeling silky and smooth, eases fatigue and sore muscles, and may even promote better circulation. 

Yuzu’s fresh, citrusy, therapeutic scent also makes it a popular aromatherapy fragrance. Whether as a bath or as an essential oil, many have found yuzu’s scent to promote relaxation and reduce stress, as well!

(Disclaimer: While citrus fruit does indeed offer many health benefits, remember that it is not a substitute for vaccinations or medical treatment. Please do not take this as medical advice, and be sure to seek proper medical attention if you experience any symptoms of illness.) 

These Furry Friends Enjoy Yuzu Baths, Too!

Yuzu baths aren’t only for people. Some furry friends at the Izu Shaboten Zoo also like to indulge!

Shizuoka’s Izu Shaboten Zoo arranges an annual Winter Solstice yuzuyu for some of its residents, namely, their adorable capybaras! This tradition began in 1982, after some zoo employees noticed the capybaras huddling together in the water one day. They decided to set up a yuzuyu for them, open for visitors to see.

Since then, several other Japanese zoos followed suit. Many annual Winter Solstice capybara baths for public viewing. [6]

capybaras in a yuzu bath
These adorable capybaras know how to relax! (Image: Wikipedia)[8]

But don’t worry if you can’t get to a zoo in Japan to see these cuddly critters for yourself. Thanks to the internet, you can catch videos of the annual events online, too!

Yuzu baths began as a Winter Solstice tradition. But don’t wait until next year’s Winter Solstice to try one for yourself! You can enjoy a relaxing yuzu bath anywhere, at any time, on any day of the year!

Kotatsu: Japan’s Way of Staying Warm in Winter

Sources

[1] 柚子湯. Wikipedia

[2] 2021年の冬至はいつ?なぜゆず湯に入るの?由来や意味を調べてみた. WakaruWeb

[3] 東都歳時記(江戸歳事記 4巻 付録1巻). 国立国会図書館デジタルコレクション (Digital Collection of the National Diet Library)

[4] ゆず湯で一年の疲れをとりませんか?ゆず湯の歴史とゆず湯イベント. Aeradot

[5] ゆず湯:冬至に香りを愉しむ. Nippon.com 

[6] カピバラ 冬至前に「ゆず湯」でほっこり 栃木 那須町. NHK

[7] 柚子. Wikipedia 

[8] Yuzu bath. Wikipedia

Want more UJ? Get our FREE newsletter 

Need a preview? See our archives

Krys Suzuki

Krys is a Japanese-fluent, English native speaker currently based in the US. A former Tokyo English teacher, Krys now works full time as a J-to-E translator, writer, and artist, with a focus on subjects related to Japanese language and culture. JLPT Level N1. Shares info about Japanese language, culture, and the JLPT on Twitter (SunDogGen).

Japan in Translation

Subscribe to our free newsletter for a weekly digest of our best work across platforms (Web, Twitter, YouTube). Your support helps us spread the word about the Japan you don’t learn about in anime.

Want a preview? Read our archives

You’ll get one to two emails from us weekly. For more details, see our privacy policy