Land of the Rising Moon: The Role of the Moon in Japanese Culture
Long ago, when we were wanderers of a wild Earth, our lives came to be ruled by the cosmic spectacle of the moon. In a time long before the floodgates of 24/7 information burst forward a river that will likely never dry, it gave us something to talk about. Nowhere was this more true than in Japan, where it takes a leading role in poetry, art, and folklore.
The Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto, one of Japan’s most prized cultural treasures and home to some of the finest examples of Japanese gardening in the world, was built largely because it was thought to offer the best views of the moon. Centuries before its construction, it was written in Murasaki Shikibu’s Tales of Genji: "Far away, in the country village of Katsura, the reflection of the moon upon the water is clear and tranquil." As such, the villa was built with a bamboo platform dedicated to the act moon viewing. It was likely on these same platforms that pareidolia took over as people gazed at the moon and saw, not a man made of cheese, but "Tsuki no Usagi" - a rabbit using a hammer to pound rice cakes.
On the 15th day of the 8th month of the traditional Japanese calendar (usually in September or October on the solar calendar), the celebration of Tsukimi takes place. People across Japan celebrate by offering seasonal autumnal treats like Tsukimi Dango (rice cakes very likely made by the rabbit) and chestnuts to the moon. Raw and over easy eggs, which also represent the moon, find their way into many dishes.
In Iwamura Kazuo’s The Family of Fourteen and the Moon, our tiny heroes (Grandma, Grandpa, Mom, Dad, four daughters, and six sons) climb high in a tree to build their own moon-viewing platform and offer rice cakes and chestnuts to the moon. Shop The Family of Fourteen titles and other books on our website.