Google informed me that today is 中秋の名月 (Chushu no Meigetsu) 2017 with an adorable mochi-pounding rabbit graphic. This marks the harvest moon and the middle of the autumn season.
But to be quite honest, I wasn’t really sure what to do with this information. Am I supposed to honour this day somehow? I asked my colleagues about it and it seems especially in urban areas like Tokyo, the harvest moon is being celebrated less and less.
Harvest Moon Traditions
My boss has fond memories of being a ‘mochi thief’ as a child in the countryside of Aichi prefecture. Apparently the tradition there is similar to Trick or Treating. The children of the town not only demand sweets from their neighbours, but are even allowed to sneakily steal mochi off the altar of the shrine.
Another of my colleagues recalled having a picnic outside with her family to engage in tsukimi (月見) which is viewing the full moon. In the past, the viewers would get inspired by the beauty to compose poetry on the spot. In modern times kicking back with some good food and drinks is enough! But sadly, she also agreed that nowadays in Tokyo, no one does much to celebrate.
According to Japanese folklore, the grey shadows on the moon are in the shape of rabbits pounding mochi which is why dango (little white mochi balls) are a traditional celebration food of the harvest moon.
But my colleagues did note that in the countryside where harvests are more important, people are probably still diligently recognising this festival. So the least we city slickers can do is eat some dango and look at how pretty the moon is tonight!
Enjoy your tsukimi!
- 中秋の名月（ちゅうしゅうのめいげつ） – Harvest moon (lit. middle of autumn’s great moon)
- 月見（つきみ） – Moon viewing (having a picnic outside to appreciate the moon)
- 餅（もち） – Rice cakes eaten as a sweet/dessert
- 月見団子（つきみだんご） – Small rice cake balls eaten traditionally at this time of year (lit. moon viewing dango)
- 十五夜（じゅうごや） – Another word for the night of the harvest moon (lit. 15th night but it does not necessarily fall on 15th, this just means the middle of the month)