Let´s eat eels on the day of cow? – Doyo no Ushi no Hi

July 29, 2014 Juju Kurihara 0 Comments

unagi 1It´s a Doyo no Ushi no Hi (土用の丑の日) today in Japan and it´s a day that people eat unagi (鰻/eels) the most during the year. 

What does Doyo and Ushi no HI? Those who have learnt Japanese may think Doyo means Saturday and Ushi no Hi means the day of cow. Hmm, not quite. 

Doyo (土用) is the period of 18 days before the kisetsu (季節); risshun (立春/ spring day), rikka (立夏/summer day), risshu (立秋/autumn day) and rittou (立冬/winter day). Then according to the old Japanese calendar, the dates were counted by 12 animals. Yes, the same animals of each year. Ushi is cow and come second. So Doyo no Ushi no Hi is the day of cow during these 18 days before the risshu of the year. It´s on the 7th of August, by the way.


unagi 3


When Japanese people started eating unagi on this day? It went back to a long time ago, in Asuka period (飛鳥時代 592-710) people were already eating eels because of its nourishment and fortifier. Eating unagi helps to recover from heat exhaustion was believed in ancient Japan and it´s even mentioned in Manyoshu (万葉集). 







In Edo period (江戸時代 1603-1868), there was a custom to eat some food its name starts with "U" on the Ushi no Hi. In that era, Japan has a great inventor, Hiraga Gen-nai (平賀源内). Somehow he took a part in this custom and he made a line for the advertisement, "Eat "U"nagi on Doyo no Ushi no Hi!". Since then, Japanese people keep this tradition to beat the heat.  

The great inventor was also a great copywriter.




Today many Japanese are eating unagi but there is a concern that eels are in endanger. Most of the eels are imported from China but the baby eels are apparently come from Europe, which are even more in endanger than Japanese eels. Japanese eels take time to grow, approximately six months to a year. Naturally they are more expensive and not enough for the consumption. 

This makes us think. Do we need to keep eating unagi just because it´s a custom? It´s said that CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) may control the eel exportation. Before complaining we probably need to think a little. First, unagi was a luxurious food and that´s why Doyo no Ushi no Hi was so special. But now you can eat an una-don (うな丼) for 380 yen at Yoshinoya. It´s great we can eat such a delicacy for a little money, but is it? Really? 

unagiAnother problem is the rivers where baby eels grow are damaged. The amount of the river area has been reduced because of the city development. Even the type of the rice field has been changed and there is no freedom for eels to come and go between the field and the rivers. It´s fine to develop the eel farm to help the grow of the eel population but maintaining the river environment for eels to grow naturally may be a more important solution. 

Eating my unagi for the first time after 10 years, I thought about the environment. 




More about Japanese custom

3rd of February

21st of March

4th of April

5th of May

8th of August

31st of August

22nd November

22th of December


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