Tsumiki – Viewing the Moon

Tsukimi (月見 => 月: Moon, 見:view, look, see) is a tradition that came to Japan from China 1.500 years ago. The tradition’s purpose is to appreciate the beauty of the Moon and thank the Gods for the last rice crop season. It is celebrated the first time there is full Moon in Autumn and during the next days. Mythology says that if you look to the Moon very carefully on those days you are able to same some rabbits having fun there. This believe comes from Buddhism, from a legend that comes from the north of India and was adapted in China as the “Mid-Autumn Festival” and in Japan as the “Tsukimi”.

The legend says that Buddha in one of his reincarnations was a rabbit and he had a monkey, a fox and a sea otter friends. One day the Rabbit Buddha proposed to his friends to give food to those who really need it the full Moon days. For the next full Moon day, the fox captured a little deer, the monkey collected some bananas, and the sea otter got some fish. But the Rabbit Buddha realized he was into trouble since all he eats and he is able to get is weed, and he could not get anything a human could eat. The Rabbit Buddha talked to the “King of Heaven” and informed him that his was going to offer his own body as food for those humans who need it. The “King of Heaven” was shocked, but he created a fire and the Rabbit Buddha jumped into it. But the fire was not hot enough, and the Buddha Rabbit complained to the “King of Heaven”. And the King replied ” The important thing is that you really were willing to give your life to help those who are in need. Your good will and your feat will never be forgotten”. And after his words he draw a huge rabbit in the Moon’s surface, so next generations would not forget the Buddha Rabbit deed.

In China there is the believe that in the Moon there is a rabbit creating the immortality elixir. In Japan the believe is that the rabbit is kneading some mochi (sweet rice) with a mace. This kneading-hammering process of mochi is called in Japanese “mochitsuki” (餅つき). And I guess it is not a coincidence that the pronunciation is the same as the word “full Moon” in Japanese “mochizuki 望月”.

And this is how with a little bit of imagination you can imagine the shape of a rabbit doing “mochitsuki” in the Moon:

Tsukimi
Tsukimi

In a Tsukimi celebration family members and friends gather in a place with good views to the Moon. The preparation involves putting together some “tsukimi dango” (Sweets made with “mochi”) balls in pyramid, some fruit, zuzuki leafs, sweet potatoes and sake. These are all the options but the basic “ingredients” are the “tsukimi dango” and the “zuzuki leafs”. All these have to be exposed to the Moon light as an offering to the Gods. During the celebration wishes can be made and time is spend drinking tea and listening to koto-shakuhachi music.

This a Tsukimi preparation I went the other day:

Udon

Udon

Udon
“Tsukimi dango” bathing in moonlight.

The tsukimi tradition has also influenced some Japanese recipes and food naming. Basically when you put an egg yolk in the middle of an X recipe dish it becomes a “Tsukimi”+X. For example, if you put an egg yolk in udon it becomes “Tsukimi-udon”. Or even en McDonalds, where you can find hamburgers with an egg inside and those are called in the menu “Tsukimi-burguers”. McDonalds “Tsukimi-burguers” are only available during the Tsukimi Season (some weeks in September and October):

Udon
Tsukimi-udon

Udon
Tsukimi-burguer in McDonalds.

Udon
There are three varieties of tsukimi-burguer available in McDonalds.

By the way, for those of you who are “Sailor Moon” fans. Have you realized that Sailor Moon’s main character’s name is Usagi (“rabbit” in Japanese), and the anime name is Sailor MOON and in her dress there are some Moon symbols and most of his attack names have the word Moon in them? 😉

And for Dragon Ball fans. Do you remember the rabbit gang, and how do they all end up doing “mochitsuki” in the Moon?

Tsukimi
The Dragon Ball rabbit gang doing “mochitsuki” in the Moon.

Tsukimi
Old drawing of a rabbit doing “mochitsuki”

Tsukimi
Mochi sweets with rabbit shape.

Tsukimi
Enjoying tsukimi in an online game.

Tsukimi
Nice composition.

Tsukimi

Tsukimi

Tsukimi
Rabbits praying to rabbit Gods?

Tsukimi
Anime character enjoying tsukimi.

Tsukimi

More information about Tsukimi:

8 Comments
  • Ekowc

    October 1, 2008 at 5:26 am

    Excellent post!
    Really interesting tradition and the story about that rabbit in the moon is intriguing.

  • ale/pepino

    October 1, 2008 at 7:03 am

    Lots of info and interesting pics here!

    Only one thing – 望月 reads “mochizuki” not “mochitsuki”. Still a bit of a coincidence, but not 100%.

  • Kristo

    October 1, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    Wow, cool story !

    Just viewing nature is a very balancing custom in high-tech-loving Japan.

  • andy

    October 1, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    There is only one God.

  • kirai

    October 2, 2008 at 12:40 am

    ale/pepino: thx, changed it.

  • Curtis

    October 4, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    Great post, thanks!

  • Shippoyasha

    October 8, 2008 at 1:35 am

    Amazing post, man. Looking at all the little dimensions into Tsukimi.

    Honestly, the last time I did an honest to goodness Tsukimi was when I was a 3 year old.

    It’d be really nostalgic to do the whole ceremony as a more appreciative adult.

    This post almost brought a tear to my eye. Thanks Kirai.

  • Abby

    March 29, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    What game is that? ^^