Tsukimi, Mid-Autumn Festival in Japan

Tsukimi, or Otsukimi is a traditional festival with a long history, considered as the Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival in Japan. It falls on 15th day of 8th lunar month. The traditional customs on that day include appreciating the full moon, eating Tsukimi Dango, decorating house with pampas grass and flowers, etc... However, the customs of the festival are not kept well nowadays, and many young people do not celebrate this festival any more.

Tsukimi’s Origin from China

The custom of appreciating the full moon on 15th day of 8th lunar month was introduced to Japan from China during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD). It was only popular among the nobility at the beginning, then spread to folks gradually, becoming a nationwide folk activity.

Ancient Japanese believed that the full moon symbolizes the harvest, so in addition to appreciating full moon, they held ceremony with sacrifices to pray for harvest on this day. This custom has been passed down to the present day.

Make and Eat Tsukimi Dango

Japanese people eat Tsukimi Dango on the Tsukimi Festival, a kind of white soft pastry made of glutinous rice. It is usually round symbolizing the moon, and also conveying people’s best wishes for health and happiness. There is usually no stuffing in it. Fifteen Tsukimi Dango are sacrificed to the moon on the festival night and they are stacked on a plate with the number of 9, 4, and 2 from bottom to top. The families will share them while or after appreciating the moon.

In addition to the round ones in jade white in the Central and Kanto regions, Tsukimi Dango in different places has different characteristics. It is rolled in red bean paste in Kansai. It is shaped slender like a drop of water in Nagoya, and there are three colors of it: white, pink and coffee. And in Okinawa, the Tsukimi Dango is covered with steamed red beans.

There are also moon cakes in Japan, but it is not the Tsukimi festival food. You can find mooncakes in supermarkets and convenience stores on usual days. Popular mooncake flavors in Japan include red beans, nuts, chestnuts, Uji matcha, black sesames, mixed stuffing with lotus seeds paste and nuts or fruits, and the special flavor of baked sweet potato only in autumn.

Prepare Offerings to the Moon

People prepare Tsukimi Dango, taros, fruits, wine, etc. as offerings to the moon at the night of Tsukimi Festival in Japan. They worship the moon with these offerings in their own yard, and share the offerings after the offering ceremony with families.

Decorate Home with Flowers and Pampas Grass

Pampas grass is tall with silver-white tassels, and is a common plant in autumn in Japan. Japanese believe that pampas grass is a token of the moon God who guards the crops and is in charge of giving birth to babies. It is also said pampas grass has the effect of exorcising evil spirits. Therefore, people decorate home with pampas grass on the Mid-Autumn Festival night to pray for harvest and exorcise evil spirits. Japanese also decorate home with flowers on that day.

Appreciate the Full Moon

Appreciating the full moon is an important tradition on Tsukimi Festival in Japan, and because of this, the festival is also called Otsukimi, which means the festival of appreciating the autumn moon. What’s more, some temples in Japan hold moon appreciation gatherings on that day. Below are three places recommended for moon appreciation on Tsukimi Festival in Japan:

1. Daikaku-ji Temple in Kyoto

Inside the temple, there is a famous artificial lake built by an emperor in ancient time in order to appreciate the moon. People can view both the bright moon in the sky and the reflection of the moon in the lake.

2. Sarusawa-no-ike Pond of Kofuku-ji Temple in Nara

With clear water, it is also an excellent place to appreciate the moon and its bright reflection on the water.

3. Ishiyamadera Temple in Shiga

It is a perfect place to appreciate the moon which was even recorded in ancient Japanese literatures. On Tsukimi, 2,000 candles and lanterns are lit to create mysterious and quiet atmosphere. Also, a steam moon-watching boat is prepared for people to appreciate the moon over the lake just like ancient people did.

There is another Moon Festival in Japan. Do you know?

There is another Moon Festival in Japan on the 13th day of 9th lunar month. On that day, people worship the moon as well. The difference is that thirteen Tsukimi Dango are offered to the moon instead of fifteen.

Further Reading

Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong

Mid-autumn Festival in Taiwan

Mid-Autumn Festival in Other Asian Countries

Chuseok - Korean Thanksgiving, Mid-Autumn Festival in Korea

Mid-Autumn Festival in Singapore

Mid-Autumn Festival in Malaysia 

Mid-Autumn Festival in Vietnam - Têt Trung Thu, Children’s Festival

- Last updated on Aug. 13, 2019 -
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