Photo/Illutration A group of residents sharing a house in Fukuoka Prefecture surround a "nabe" hot pot dishes in February, 2016. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

"Kore wa Ohisama" (This is the sun), a picture book written by Shuntaro Tanigawa and illustrated by Ayumi Ohashi, shows the bright red sun on the first page.

As you keep turning the pages, there appears a wide expanse of green field, captioned, "This is a wheat field under the sun."

Next, you see ears of wheat. "This is wheat harvested from the wheat field under the sun," the caption says.

Then, there is a small child with rosy cheeks nibbling on bread. The narrative goes: "This is Atchan, who is eating bread that was baked with dough that was made with flour from the wheat that was harvested from the wheat field under the sun."

There would be no bread without the sun's blessing.

I hear that the prolonged fair weather of this past autumn has produced good, healthy vegetables. In fact, the size of daikon, or white radish, I purchased yesterday from a local farmer's market stall was especially impressive.

Vegetable prices appear to be dropping around the nation. According to the agriculture ministry, the latest retail prices of cabbage and "hakusai" (Chinese cabbage) are about 40 percent lower than in an average year, and the price of daikon is down 30 percent.

The arrival of the winter chill makes it finally feel like December. This is also the season that makes it easy to decide what to have for dinner.

A haiku by Kyoshi Takahama (1874-1959) goes to the effect, "I'll do the usual again, that 'yosenabe' (traditional hot pot)."

The low prices of vegetables must be a gift from the sun this autumn, encouraging us to enjoy seasonal "nabe" dishes.

Speaking of December, I wonder how many of our usual year-end traditions we will be able to observe this year--"bonenkai" (forget-the-year) and Christmas parties, New Year's Eve gatherings, and so on.

I have always associated December with a feeling of warmth. The reason, I am reminded anew, is that this month is busier than any other in terms of getting together with people.

The Japanese expression "jikabashi de ikimashou" translates literally as, "Let's forget about serving utensils and use our own chopsticks to serve ourselves food from the communal hot pot."

This is essentially an invitation for everyone to relax, let their hair down and just enjoy the party.

Aside from these December rituals, there are all sorts of things we simply took for granted before the pandemic. I wonder if they will have returned by around this time next year.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 3

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.