Invisible Tides: The Meaning of Moon Phases

Though it’s nearly 340,000 kilometers away from the Earth, the moon holds an undeniable influence on our natural world. Its invisible gravitational pull on the earth is responsible for the rise and fall of the ocean tides, and its lunar phases give us some insight into the natural patterns of the cosmos. Symbolically, it moves across the sky in an unflinching cycle, illustrating the steady order of the heavens even when it feels like our lives are governed by chaos.

Early on, the Japanese sensed the invisible power of the moon, and paid careful attention to these lunar proceedings. Identifying the various phases of the moon was essential to farmers because they served as points of reference for agricultural decisions. The moon’s color, shape, and relationship to the clouds and stars would help farmers predict the weather, anticipate the harvest and foretell the fishing catch.

Until the 19th century, Japan followed the lunar calendar, meaning that most events in the daily lives of the Japanese were dictated by the phases of the moon. Lunar rhythms dictated daily comings and goings, so the phases of the moon were named after what people were doing as they waited for the moon to rise.

Shingetsu- New Moon
In this phase, the sun, moon and earth align, so that the moon's light is shielded by the earth and the moon remains unseen. Though it's dark, you can still see a thin sliver of a border where the moon should be.  

Futsukazuki- Second-day Moon
A slender crescent on the right-hand side of the moon. 

Mikazuki- Waxing Crescent
The word waxing refers to growing, or expanding in illumination. In this phase, the moon begins to grow

Jusanyazuki- Still Waiting
This halfway moon is thought to be especially beautiful despite growing anticipation. 

Komochizuki- Lying down
This nearly-full moon is best appreciated when lying down in a clear area and looking up at the night sky.

Mangetsu- Full Moon
Also known as harvest moon, the full moon reaches its highest illumination and shines brightly in the sky.

Izayoizuki- Hesitating Moon
This moon seems to hesitate in the twilight before rising, hence the term izayoi (hesitating). It is also be called the “waiting for twilight moon.”

Tachimachizuki- Standing and Waiting
As the moon rises progressively later in the day by this time of the month, the name suggests standing and waiting for it to appear.

Imachizuki- Sitting and Waiting
Because this moon takes even longer to rise than tachimachizuki, you end up sitting and waiting for it to appear.  

Nemachizuki- Sleeping and Waiting
This lemon-shaped moon was beloved by Edo Rimpa school artists, who painted natural subjects against backdrops of gold leaf.

Fukemachizuki- Waiting Late Into the Night
Still later to rise, this moon doesn’t come out until late into the night.

Kagen-no-tsuki- Lower Bowstring Moon
This half-moon resembles a strung bow waiting to be launched.

Mosikasuki- Full Moon
A dark, moonless night, this phase is known as moon shadow. Once this phase is reached, the cycle starts all over again.