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Culture - Moon Viewing Festival (by Makiko Koide)

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What can you see in the moon?

My mom taught me that we can see a rabbit pounding rice cakes (mochi) in the moon. I thought everybody sees the rabbit until I went to America. My American friends said they can see a man’s face. It depends on the country; people see different things in the moon. For example, Arabic people can see a lion in the moon; Europeans can see a donkey or a crab with only one hand…

Moon viewing (Otsukimi) is one of our refined elegant traditions in Japan. Tsukimi honours the first autumnal full moon, in the middle of September (or the 15th of August, jugo ya, according to the lunar calendar). This custom originally came from China, in the Heian era (794-1185). The contemplation of the autumnal full moon became a popular custom during the Edo era (1603-1868). Farmers, in particular, integrated it into their rites marking the end of the harvest season.

Japanese people celebrate today by gathering near the window or balcony at home, and quietly enjoying the full moon with special foods.  Traditionally, foods such as a plate of dango (rice-flour dumplings) and fall fruits (persimmons, grapes and pears) are displayed as a kind of offering to the moon. Sake, beer and/or Ocha (tea) usually complete this special lunar feast. We also make floral arrangements, often out of pampas grass (susuki).

The Moon viewing festival is the subject of many haiku poems;

He’s a poor boy.

He had to break off Moon-viewing

to grind rice.

The Moon -

no one at the party

had such a beautiful face.

A cloud, thank heavens.

You can stare at perfection

For too long.

(By Basho Matsuo)