Yesterday was the day of Doyo no Ushi/ 土用の丑. Did you have an unagi (an eel)? We did!
They traditionally have these Unagi dishes on this particular day called as ‘Doyo no Ushi’ in the mid-summer to get the power to overcome the heat because it has much nutrition. ‘Doyo no Ushi’ might sound to you like ”a Saturday’s cow” or something. My kids misunderstood, too. But it’s not! It’s embarrassing, but I confess, neither did I understood it fully. I guess many Japanese don’t know what it means. The elderly people might know, though. So, I googled it a little bit, and try to explain to you.
In the ancient Japan, they thought all the things could be sorted into these 5 elements, ‘fire’ ‘water’ ‘woods’ ‘metals’ and ‘earth’. If you’re interested in this theory, check this wiki page. Anyway, people tried to sort the Japanese FOUR seasons into FIVE elements. The spring was sorted to the woods, the summer to the fire, the fall to the metal, and the winter to the water. So you may wonder how about the earth? People separated it into four and attached each part between the two seasons. So, ‘Doyo’ means ‘for the earth’ and ‘Doyo no hi ( the days for the earth ) means the transit period to the next season. So, I could say it like one year goes around from ‘the wood’ and then ‘the 1/4 earth’ and then ‘the fire’ and then ‘the 1/4 earth’ again, and then ‘the metal’ and then ‘ the 1/4 earth’ and then ‘the water’ and ‘the final 1/4 earth’. Are we clear???
So, You have to know one more thing, about ‘Ushi‘. It means ‘an ox’ and you might know the kanji ‘牛’ but when you write it with ‘丑’ that represents not an animal but sort of time. They used to use 12 animals to express a certain time or a day in ancient Japan and China, you know? You might have heard of the Oriental Zodiac or the Earthly Branches. So, You have a ‘ushi day’ once every 12 days. There was a sort of superstitious idea that you never be sick if you have the food with a letter ‘U’ on the day of ‘Ushi ‘. Then, they says that people began to have ‘Unagi (an eel ) on the day of Ushi. Also, they says that it’s a kind of marketing methods in modern days to sell Unagi at the mid-summer when commonly people don’t want to eat such a fatty food.
Could I make sense it to you? The old zodiac things have almost gone these days. People may care about it when they have to hold some ceremonial thing like a wedding or a funeral. I guess my kids could not explain exactly about the Oriental Zodiac to their children. However, I think people would keep the habit related especially with foods even if they don’t know its origin. I just say, the eel I had yesterday was super!!
This page is much more detailed about it. A taste of Culture