September is known as "Nagatsuki" in Japan. It is said that the name "Yonagatsuki (month with long nights)" is abbreviated to "Nagatsuki", which is the moment when the season changes from summer to autumn and the sun sets earlier and the nights get longer day by day.
September is also known for TSUKIMI moon-watching. This article introduces Japanese people's sensitivity to the moon and how they enjoy moon-watching.
What is TSUKIMI?
Tsukimi is literally to view (miru) and the moon (tsuki). The moon on the 15th day of each month is called "Jugoya (15th night)", and especially the moon on August 15 of the lunar calendar, around mid to late September today, is considered the most beautiful of the year, called "Chushu-no-meigetsu (Mid-autumn great moon)".
Tsukimi was originally a Chinese event, and when it was introduced to Japan around 859-877, it became popular among the aristocrats of the Heian period (794-1185). The aristocrats had sake while gazing at the moon, and enjoyed poetry and orchestral music on a boat. In those days, people did not look directly at the moon, but rather enjoyed watching its reflection on the surface of the water or in the sake cups.
It was not until the Edo period (1603-1867) that this custom of moon-viewing spread among the general public. Since it coincided with the autumn harvest season, the custom became one of thanksgivings for a bountiful harvest, making offerings to the moon, and wishing for another bountiful harvest in the coming year.
Today's tsukimi has lost its significance as a festival of thanksgiving, but it has taken root as an event to get close to nature and enjoy the autumn season.
The Legend of the Moon Rabbit in Japan
There are many mysterious legends about the moon in Japan. One of them is that "rabbits live on the moon and make rice cakes on the fifteenth day of the month".
This legend that there is a rabbit on the moon is based on an Indian Buddhist sermon. So what is the story?
Once upon a time, there was a rabbit, a fox, and a monkey. One day, they met an old man who was tired and hungry, and the three looked for food for him. The monkey brought nuts and the fox brought fish, but the rabbit, despite his best efforts, was unable to bring anything. So the rabbit jumped into the fire to offer himself as food. The old man was actually a god who wanted to test their deeds. The god took pity on the kind-hearted rabbit and resurrected him in the moon."
There are several theories as to why rabbits make rice cakes on the moon, such as "making rice cakes for the old man (the god)" and "rabbits do not have to worry about food".
The patterns on the surface of the moon are seen in different ways in different countries and regions. Why don't you look at the moon in the night sky and see if you can find a rabbit making rice cakes?
How to enjoy moon viewing and Jugoya
Decorate with silver grass
Miscanthus sinensis, a perennial grass of the Poaceae family, has long been a popular autumnal custom in Japan, and is thought of as a worship object to which invites the moon god. Originally, ears of rice should be used, but since they are not available during the tsukimi season, silver grass, which looks similar to ears of rice, is used as a decoration to show gratitude to the gods. The sharp cut of silver grass’leaves also has the meaning of repelling evil spirits.
Making and eating tsukimi-dango
Tsukimi-dango (dumplings for moon viewing) were originally made by rounding rice flour’s dough, in the shape of the moon, to express gratitude for the grain harvest. Tsukimi dumplings are usually made on the day of the event, offered to the moon god, and then eaten while watching the moon. It is believed that taking the offerings into the body will bring health and happiness.
Enjoying Tsukimi Sake
Tsukimi Sake is sake that is drunk while admiring the moon. It is a chic way to spend a long autumn evening in elegance, just like the aristocrats of the Heian period?
Try the limited seasonal menu
Every year in Japan, fast food and sweets named after the moon are sold during the tsukimi season. McDonald's "Tsukimi Burger" is one of the most famous. If you have a chance to visit Japan during tsukimi season, why not give it a try?
Stories related to the four seasons
- January, A Harmonious Family Moment
- February, Demons Out! Fortune In!
- March, Hina Festival for Girls
- April, Cherry blossoms in full bloom
- May, Carp streamers swimming in the sky
- June, Rain falls when plum fruits are ripening
- July, Lovers Meeting across the Milky way on Tanabata
- August, Obon to welcome ancestors back home
- September, Can you see the moon rabbit?
- October, When 8 million deities gather at Izumo Taisha
- November, Shichi-Go-San Festival to celebrate kids' growth
- December, Japanese way of spending Christmas