Twunji-bīsa (winter solstice chill) is the seasonal wind that blows in Okinawa during the lunar month of November, around the time of the winter solstice.
Just when the Uchinanchu (Okinawans) begin to feel sentimental for the arrival of the calm autumn, having endured the hot summer, they are exposed to the cold air from the north. In order to overcome the twunji-bīsa and remain well, families would prepare and offer twunji-jushi (seasoned rice porridge for twunji) to the gods and their ancestors, praying for the health of family members. The porridge is cooked with ingredients such as tānmu (taro), attami (pork), kūbu (konbu), shimanā (leaf mustard), chidēkunī (carrot) and kashitira-kamabuku (a type of kamaboko popular in Okinawa).
Okinawan families traditionally had a monthly meal, which took more time and effort to prepare than usual. The day of this special customary meal was called wouyumi (turning point). However, out of the 12 months, wouyumi was absent in October depending on the year and they couldn’t have the feast, which was known as achihati-jugwachi (tiresome October). Unlike our current era of plenty, children back then would wait in anticipation for the wouyumi to come.
When I was small, I helped my mother wash vegetables with well water. I still remember the coldness of the water… In the northern wind, I would carefully wash every one of the leaves as I sniffled. We didn’t use pesticides back then, so there were a lot of insect eggs on the leaves. My role was to remove all of those eggs. There are many things that we no longer do today, but when I look back, it somehow seems like a good time.As twunji approaches, I would prepare twunji-jushi, a tradition inherited from my ancestors, and withstand the twunji-bīsa in good shape as a healthy citizen of Okinawa, a place known for its longevity.1
- Okinawa used to be the prefecture with the best longevity in Japan—however, the ranking dropped to 26th for men in the national census of 2000, and according to the life table of 2020 per prefecture, Okinawa came in 43rd for men and 16th for women.