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Tsukimi: Viewing the Harvest Moon

Tsukimi, which translates literally to “moon viewing” is a Japanese harvest festival that takes place on the full moon nearest to the autumnal equinox, when the full moon is said to be the most beautiful. According to the traditional Japanese calendar, Tsukimi is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month-- on the solar calendar, usually falling somewhere between September and October. This year, 2020, Tsukimi will take place on October 1st. During Tsukimi, it is tradition to gather where the full moon can be seen, often on a porch or a balcony, to eat ceremonial foods, make offerings, and pray to the moon for a bountiful fall harvest.

Tsukimi has its beginnings in ancient Japan, with the first records of the holiday being celebrated by nobles during the Nara (710-794) and Heian (794-1185) periods after the custom of moon-viewing parties migrated from China. During these parties, many of which took place on boats so as to showcase the reflection of the moon in the water, aristocrats would play music and compose poetry. For a large chunk of Japanese history, Tsukimi was celebrated only by courtiers and others of high enough social status to appear in the imperial court. However, by the Edo period (1603-1868) the celebration had spread around Japan and was observed by commoners as well, often in the form of vivacious parties that wound deep into the evening.

Like all Japanese holidays, Tsukimi features its own selection of special ceremonial foods and offerings. Decorations of pampas grass, said to resemble rice when it is at the point of harvest, adorn family shrines and white rice dumplings called tsukimi dango are eaten as part of traditional celebrations. Other foods popular during the fall season, such as chestnuts, edamame, taro root and sweet potatoes are also eaten and left as offerings. In fact, in some areas, the popularity of potato based foods on Tsukimi has lead to it being called “imomeigetsu” or potato harvest moon.

In modern times, it is common for venues with nice views, such as temples, shrines, public gardens, and even skyscrapers to hold Tsukimi events where visitors can come and experience the full autumn moon for themselves. Both Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree host Tsukimi parties on their upper floors where the moon can be seen unimpeded by the Tokyo skyline. Other more modern festivities include the addition of Tsukimi themed foods in restaurants-- featuring a fried or raw egg, as the yolk is said to resemble the full moon-- including an egg topped burger at Japanese McDonald’s. From the past to the present, Tsukimi continues to liven up the fall season by the light of the moon.


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