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Tsukimi: The Traditional Moon-viewing festival in Japan

What is Tsukimi?

Every year, a famous festival is celebrated somewhere between September and October (15th day of the 8th lunar month). Known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, it is celebrated by the Chinese community around the world and in other Asian countries like Vietnam, Japan, and South Korea. Despite originating from China, the festival is celebrated differently in different cultures.

Tsukimi (also known as Otsukimi) is a traditional Japanese holiday also celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. Celebrations in Japan date back to the Heian Period (794 to 1185) when courtiers would gather at night under the mid-autumn moon to recite Haiku poetry and play music. Haiku is a Japanese poem with 17 syllables in lines of 5, 7, and 5, started around the 17th century. Haikus traditionally evoke images of nature.

In these modern days, not many people gather on the night of the harvest moon to recite poetry and play music anymore, but Otsukimi remains a popular time of celebration in Japan with a variety of traditions new and old to partake in.

Why the rabbits?

If you happened to be in Japan during Tsukimi or have done some research about it, you might see there are alot of rabbit-shaped confectioneries or products with rabbit images on them, why that? There is a Japanese myth saying that if you look carefully at a full moon, you can notice a shape that looks like a rabbit pounding mochi with a mortar and pestle. In Japan, there's a folktale that had been passed down from generation to generation telling how this celestial rabbit came to be. Therefore, in celebration of Tsukimi you're likely to find lots of rabbit-shaped decorations and snacks in its honor.

What is eaten during Tsukimi?

At a Tsukimi celebration, you will always find tsukimi dango, a pyramid of 15 (representing the 15th day) white rice cakes. Sometimes the top dango will be colored yellow like the harvest moon, and people sometimes will shape extra dango like little rabbits.

Along with tsukimi dango you'll find other seasonal foods like sweet potatoes, chestnuts. In terms of restaurant food, you will also find many restaurants offering “tsukimi” dishes with fried eggs or extra egg yolks on top, as the yolk is looking similar to the yellow harvest moon.

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