You know it’s winter in Japan when you start seeing capybaras taking yuzu (citrus) baths.
Every year on around December 22nd there is a flood of news reports about cute capybaras all over Japan taking baths featuring the aromatic East Asian citrus fruit, yuzu. Although this seems a bit random there is actually good reason for this peculiar annual event.
Every year on around December 22nd there is a flood of news reports about cute capybaras all over Japan taking baths featuring the aromatic East Asian citrus fruit, yuzu. Although this does seem a bit random there is actually good reason for it.
The yuzu bath (yuzuyu) is a tradition associated with the winter solstice (December 21st) that dates back to the Edo Period. Taking a yuzu bath is said to ward off colds and also be good for your skin. Capybaras are of course not familiar with the long history of yuzu baths and their potential health benefits but they do love being in warm water. Thus it was only a matter of time before some Japanese zoo keeper out there realized that capybaras might enjoy a nice hot yuzu bath and that this could be used as a source of cheap publicity.
This year at least three different locations, spread across the prefectures of Fukuoka, Shizuoka and Nagano, have all provided their capybara with yuzu baths in honor of the winter solstice. The news report below was filmed at a Shizuoka theme park that started doing this tradition in 1996. In it both the capybaras and yuzu can be seen floating in the water, which has been warmed to the capybara’s preferred temperature of 40°C (104°F).
This capybara yuzu bath phenomenon has been going on long enough and become so commonplace that even Kapibara-san (カピバラさん), a popular anime style mascot character modeled after a capybara, has started taking part in this tradition. The video below is for a song called “mukyutto nukkushi”, which is about winter, baths and Kapibara-san. In it Kapibara-san and his friends can be seen taking a nice winter bath, complete with, you guessed it, yuzu. And yes, you can even hear yuzu mentioned in the lyrics.
Kind of makes you want to take a nice hot yuzu bath, doesn't it?