Dating all the way back to the Heinen period (794-1185) – the Tsukimi moon festival takes place on the 15th day of the 8th month, and 13th day of the 9th month of the traditional Japanese calendar. While Japan now follows the Gregorian calendar – these days fall between mid September and October, when the moon is at its fullest and most beautiful state.
Originally acting as a way to show thanks for a successful harvest season, and express hopes for next year’s bounty, the manner in which the Japanese people celebrate Tsukimi has actually remained largely intact over thousands of years. Back in the day, Tsukimi was popular among common folk and aristocrats alike, who all enjoyed gathering around tranquil bodies of water to soak in the full moon’s reflection. Such poignant moments often inspired the writing and reciting of beautifully fleeting tanka poetry.
Nowadays though, moon viewing parties in Japan are often focused on gathering together with friends and family. During this time, it’s rather common to see Japanese homes and temples decorated with pampas grass, or suzuki, to mark the occasion with it’s simplistic beauty – much like the full moon itself.
Of course, there’s no such thing as a proper Japanese celebration without some delicious traditional food!
Tsukimi dango is probably the most iconic and traditional food offered during typical moon viewing festivities. Made simply from Japanese rice flour and water, Tsukimi dango is soft and chewy in texture, with a very slight sweetness. Tsukimi dango is also traditionally used as one of the various offerings to the moon you can find in front of Japanese homes or temples during the celebration.
Due to their seasonality, Japanese sweet potatoes are also a very popular Tsukimi offering. When roasted, the sweet potatoes take on a deeply, caramelized flavor. Topped with butter and a bit of sugar, their soft and silky texture makes for a fantastic dessert that warms you up on a cool Autumn night!
For something more substantial and savory, Tsukimi Udon and Tsukimi Soba are classic options. Both dishes are prepared in an identical manner. Dashi, a Japanese fish stock, is combined over a low simmer with soy sauce, mirin (sweet rice wine), and just a pinch of salt. Your choice of either thick and chewy Udon or earthy buckwheat-based Soba noodles soak up the soup with a raw egg on top! The raw egg is what gives the dish it’s name, representing the full moon on a crisp Autumn night. Once the egg is mixed up, it adds an entirely new dimension to the dish, giving the soup a rich body and satisfying finish. A garnish of Japanese green onion, negi, gives the dish a bit of color and fresh bite to bring balance to the dish.
Infact, nowadays you can find tons of Tsukimi variants of popular dishes. If there’s an egg on it – you can celebrate Tsukimi with it! Even McDonald’s gets in on the moon viewing festivities with a signature Tsukimi Burger.
Now we’re hungry – and we can’t wait to celebrate Tsukimi here in Tokyo! Be sure to drop us a line if you’re planning a moon viewing party with your friends and family wherever you are in the world!
Tanner is a content editor and marketing associate based in Tokyo, Japan. As a former professional cook, he loves exploring Tokyo's food scene and cooking at home for his partner. He also enjoys bad puns, decent coffee, oxford commas, and reading fantastic genre fiction.
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