Mid-Autumn Festival in Japan – Otsukimi Festival

Every year, on August 15th of the lunar calendar, the countries of the East Asian cultural sphere happen the Mid-Autumn Festival jubilantly. Many researchers believe that it has an origin in China. Basically, the Mid-Autumn Festivals of these countries have the same points, but they also have some different ones. In Japan, the Mid-Autumn Festival is called Otsukimi Festival (Moon-Watching Festival). In spite of being called a festival, Otsukimi Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival in Japanonly takes place within the family or close friends.

Mooncakes at Mid-Autumn Festival in Japan.

Mooncakes at Mid-Autumn Festival in Japan.

Meaning of Mid-Autumn Festival in Japan

In the Japanese language, “Tsukimi” means watching the moon; the “O” sound is added to the front to show respect. The festival usually takes place on 2 days: August 15th and September 13th of the lunar calendar every year. This is an opportunity for everyone to enjoy the most beautiful moon night. Besides, Otsukimi Festival is held by the people in the period after crop harvest, with the purpose of thanking God for bringing good crops.

Origin of Mid-Autumn Festival in Japan

There is a theory that Otsukimi Festival originates from the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival custom. This festival was passed on to the Japanese island nation through the Tang missionaries during the Heian period (794 – 1185). Originally, Otsukimi Festival was only for royalty and aristocracy, but by the Edo period (1603 – 1868) it was popularized as a folk festival.

Features of Mid-Autumn Festival in Japan

The Otsukimi Festival is organized 2 times. This is a unique thing only having in Japan. Besides August 15th of the lunar calendar, Otsukimi Festival is also organized the second time in about 1 month after, September 13th of the lunar calendar. If the night of August 15th is called “The night of fifteen”, the night of September 13th is called “The night of thirteen” or “The moon after”. Japanese people believe that if someone watches the moon of “The night of fifteen”, that person has to watch the moon of “The night of thirteen”. If someone only watches the moon of “The night of fifteen” would meet bad luck. This taboo, in Japanese langue, is called “Kata-tsukimi”. This is also the difference of Otsukimi Festival (the Mid-August Festival of Japan)

The legend of Jade Rabbit

If the Vietnamese imagine that on the moon there is a banyan tree and Cuội, the Japanese believe that there is a rabbit living in the kingdom of the immortal moon god, and the rabbit pounded the dough to make Mochi Cake at Otsukimi nights.

One of the legends of the rabbit that the most beloved Japanese children originated from Indian mythology. The legend tells of three animals: Monkey, Fox, and Rabbit tried by God. One day, God transformed into an old man, came and asked them for food. While Monkey quickly climbed up the tree to pick lots of delicious fruits, and Fox stole offerings from graves to give to the old man, Rabbit had nothing. To give food to the old man, Rabbit threw himself into the bonfire to donate himself. Touched by Rabbit’s heart, God revived Rabbit and brought it to the moon to honor in front of everyone.

Jade rabbits at Mid autumn festival in Japan

Jade rabbits at Mid autumn festival in Japan.

Offering the moon

Japanese consider Otsukimi Festival is the best time to honor the moon. This is also a chance to give thanks to heaven and earth for a good harvest. On this occasion, people use sticky rice cake Dango (On “The night of fifteen”, Japanese people usually put about 15 Dango Cakes on plates to offer, and on “The night of thirteen”, they use 13 ones.), taro, tofu, chestnut, and many other foods and sake wine to offer to the god of the moon and the god of the sky and the god of the ground.  In addition, families also use Susuki weed, which symbolizes crops in Japan, to offer the moon and also scare away evil spirits.

Watching the moon

In the Japanese language, “Otsuki” means the moon, and “Mi” means watching, so “Otsukimi” means moon watching. This custom is so important that even though the weather is bad with no moon in the year, the Japanese people still celebrate the festival as usual.

At early “The night of fifteen” or “The night of thirteen”, Japanese choose a place to be able to watch the moon conveniently, in the room, in the garden or on the porch. People usually put a tray of Dango Cake and a pot of Susuki weed beside the place watching the moon to both watch the moon and eat the cakes.

Parading lanterns

At “The night of fifteen” or “The night of thirteen” Japanese people also parade lanterns, but there are only the lanterns of Koi Fish. Koi Fish has many nice qualities such as courage and strength. Under natural conditions, Koi fish usually wades backstream. In Japan, Koi fish is considered as a symbol of a person’s strong will and success.

Mid-Autumn Festival in Japan

Mid-Autumn Festival in Japan.

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