Tsukimi moon festival in Japan: rabbits on the moon?

18 September 2018 by Jojo

Tsukimi means moon-viewing in Japanese and has been celebrated every September since the Heian period (794-1185). According to the lunar calendar, the moon is most beautiful around September 15th when it's at its fullest and nearest to the Autumnal equinox. Therefore this moon is also called harvest moon! In 2018 Tsukimi will be celebrated on the 24th of September, so how do Japanese people celebrate this special day and what's its origin?

Tsukimi has been celebrated for a long time. The festival is said to be celebrated first during the Nara period (710-794 AD) but it wasn't until the Heian period (794-1185) that it became popular among aristocrats who would admire the moon's reflection in the water and read tanka poetry under the moonlight.

Nowadays Japanese people celebrate tsukimi with their families, watching the moon and enjoying mochi or tsukimi dango. There are more than 10 kinds of mochi so the ones being eaten for tsukimi have to be special too! Other popular tsukimi foods are chestnuts, pumpkin, soba and udon. The room is usually decorated with susuki, Japanese pampas grass or silver grass. Men believes that the silver grass will protect the house from evil.

But why do people enjoy mochi or tsukimi dango during this festival? Tsukimi was based on a folklore tale about the Rabbit on the moon, this story is not only known in Japan but also in China! The story goes like this:

"The Old Man of the Moon came down to Earth one day to test the kindness of three animal friends (a monkey, a rabbit, and a fox). Transformed as a beggar, the Old Man of the Moon wanted to know who was the kindest out of the three. He approached the friends, who were sitting around a fire, and asked if they had any food to spare. The monkey gathered an abundance of fruit for the beggar. The fox brought the man a fish. But the rabbit did not have anything to give and offered to give himself as a sacrifice to the man by throwing himself into the fire and allowing the beggar to eat him. Before the rabbit could do so, though, the Old Man of the Moon transformed back into his original form. He said that the rabbit was a very kind soul and took the rabbit to live on the moon with him. This story, passed down through generations, contributes to the old-time Japanese belief that rabbits came from the moon."

Have you ever heard of tsukimi the harvest moon festival or the legend of the rabbits on the moon? Let us know in the comments below! We hope that you will be able to celebrate tsukimi someday and have a good time viewing the moon in Tokyo or anywhere else in Japan.

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By the way, do you know we regularly write about Japanese culture? If you love anime check out this post about the History of Studio Ghibli! Or if you love Japanese food, check out this post about the top 3 of websites for Japanese authentic recipes!

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