Unagi day: a summer tradition of eating eel in Japan

Jul 15, 2020

Have you ever heard of “Unagi day” before?

Known as Doyo no Ushi no Hi (土用の丑の日), unagi day is a unique summer tradition in Japan, where people eat unagi (fresh water eel) to keep their stamina in the summer.

There must be one or two unagi days in the summer, and this year unagi day falls on July 28 and August 1, 2020.

Unagi day is one of the most important summer traditions in Japan, as it’s celebrated every year by the Japanese.

Today we introduce the history and the meaning of this practice, so stay tuned!

What is Doyo no Ushi no Hi?

Doyo (土用) is the name given to a period of 18-19 days preceding the change of seasons. Ushi (丑) is the ox zodiac sign in Chinese astrology.

Ushi no Hi (丑の日) literally means the day of the ox. Therefore, Doyo No Ushi no Hi is the day of the ox during this seasonal change, every 12 days within this 18-day period.

The Doyo period also falls in spring (Risshun, 立春) in early February, in summer (Rikka, 立夏) in early May, in fall (Risshu, 立秋) in early August, and in winter (Ritto, 立冬) in early November.

This year, Doyo no Ushi no Hi falls on January 23, April 16, April 28, July 21, August 2, October 25, and November 6, 2020, but only those fall on summer are celebrated as unagi days.

Why eating eel in the summer?

The tradition of eating unagi in the summer started in the Edo period.

At the time, it was (and still is, in fact) believed that eating food beginning withう(u) on Doyo no Ushi no Hi would bring relief from intense heat and humidity in the summer.

It’s also said that a man who owned a unagi restaurant had fallen on tough times, as it was difficult to lure customers to eat unagi in the summer heat.

A friend of the restaurant owner, Hiraga Gennai, a well-known author, painter, physician, and pharmacologist of the time, suggested that since unagi started with the う(u) character, the restaurant should advertise with that in mind.

Gennai made a sign for the restaurant stating that since Doyo no Ushi no Hi was just around the corner; it was the best time to eat unagi.

In addition, unagi is a nutrient-dense food that is rich in protein, calcium, and vitamins, so it makes sense toge your nutrition from unagi in the summer.

If you happen to be in Japan during the Doyo no Ushi no Hi (unagi days) this year, don’t forget to visit one of the unagi shops in Japan to try its amazing grilled eel!