Tsukimi, Japan's Moon Viewing Festival

Published September 7th, 2022

Tsukimi (月見, つきみ), also known as Otsukimi (お月見, おつきみ), is Japan’s moon festival. The festival is also known as Jugoya (十五夜, じゅごや), which refers to the night of the full moon. “Tsukimi” translates to “moon viewing,” as tsuki (月, つき) means moon and mi (見, み) means “to look.” As the name suggests, the festival honors the autumn moon. According to the Lunar calendar, the celebration of the full moon takes place on the “15th day of the eighth month." The waxing moon is celebrated “13th day of the ninth month,” which is now typically in October.

Tsukimi has been celebrated in Japan since the Heian period (794 to 1185), though it grew in popularity during the Edo period (1603 to 1867). The festival was inspired by the Mid-Autumn Festival, one of China’s largest celebrations. Inspired by the Chinese celebration, Japan’s aristocrats during the Heian period began celebrating Tsukimi to show gratitude for good harvests. They celebrated by gathering on the night of the full moon in a place where the moon could be seen clearly. They would decorate with pampas grass and recite poetry under the moonlight. When Japan used the lunar calendar, the full moon fell on the 13th of each month. Because of this, Tsukimi was celebrated on the 13th. In 1684, the calendar was altered, and full moons now landed on the 15th of each month, so the celebration changed. Now, Tsukimi's date changes every year to always fall on a full moon.

While reciting poetry on Tsukimi is not common practice anymore, many of the old traditions survived. It is still common to view the moon during Tsukimi. September is one of the best months for viewing the moon in Japan. People will find an area with a clear view and decorate it with pampas grass, as people in the Heian period did. Pampas grass, known in Japan as susuki (薄, すすき), is a symbol of fall since it grows throughout the country during the season. The plant is a sign of the moon god, who guards the crops. It is also thought to ward off evil spirits.

Another Tsukimi tradition is making and displaying Tsukimi Dango (月見団子, つきみだんご), which are plain white rice dumplings. Fifteen dumplings are arranged in a pyramid as an offering to the moon god. These are usually offered with sake. Other Tsukimi dishes include autumn foods such as chestnuts, sweet potatoes, pears, kabocha (Japanese pumpkins), and taro (Japanese root vegetable). Potatoes are so common that the celebration is sometimes referred to as the “potato harvest moon” or 芋の名月 (いもめいげつ, imomeigetsu).

Dishes with eggs are also common during Tsukimi. The yolk symbolizes the full moon, so many people enjoy Tsukimi Soba or Tsukimi Udon. These are noodle dishes with a raw or sunny side up egg on top. Restaurants like McDonalds even sell limited edition burgers with a fried egg! These are known as Tsukimi Burgers.

One last dish popular during Tsukimi is rabbit shaped mochi. Rabbits and Tsukimi go hand in hand, so you will see plenty of rabbit symbolism during the time of the festival. This is because in Japan the moon’s craters are said to look like a rabbit pounding mochi. This comes from an ancient Chinese myth known as “The Old Man of the Moon.”

Tsukimi is a celebration wrapped up in traditions and folklore. It is a magical time when summer ends, the leaves begin to change, and the moon is at its most beautiful. Tsukimi celebrates this time of the year. It is a great occasion to gather with loved ones, partake in traditions, eat delicious food, and celebrate the changing of seasons.