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Traditions of Tsukimi: Japan's Moon Festival

Traditions of Tsukimi: Japan's Moon Festival

Tsukimi or Otsukimi, is a traditional Japanese holiday celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. The name literally translates to “moon-viewing” and falls on the night of the Harvest or mid-autumn moon. Celebrations in Japan date back to the Heian Period (794 to 1185) when courtiers would gather at night under the mid-autumn moon to recite poetry and play music.

You deserve authentic Japanese treats

Though few people gather on the night of the harvest moon to recite poetry and play music anymore, Otsukimi remains a popular time of celebration in modern-day Japan with a variety of traditions new and old to partake in.

A rabbit pounding mochi and another rabbit looking at the Jugoya moon

The Myth of the Rabbit and the Moon

If you look carefully at a full moon, you might just notice a shape that looks like a rabbit pounding mochi with a mortar and pestle. In Japan there’s a folktale that tells of how this celestial rabbit came to be, and nowadays in celebration of Tsukimi you’re likely to find lots of rabbit shaped decorations and snacks in its honor.

This short Japanese children’s song is often sung during Otsukimi celebrations, and is something all children learn growing up, like a nursery rhyme. Here’s the original Japanese, and our translation:




Usagi, usagi

Nani mite haneru

Jyuugoya o-tsukisama mitewaneru

Rabbit, rabbit,

What are you looking at while you leap?

It looks at the Jugoya moon while it leaps

Otsukimi dango and full moon

Tsukimi Foods

At a Tsukimi celebration you’ll often find tsukimi dango, a pyramid of 15 (for the 15th day) white rice cakes. Sometimes the top-most dango will be colored yellow like the harvest moon, and other times people will shape extra dango like little rabbits. Want to try your hands at preparing your own tsukimi dango? Check out our recipe here. It’s super simple, and you already have at least half the ingredients at home.

Along with tsukimi dango you’ll find other seasonal foods like sweet potatoes, chestnuts, and more. But you’ll also find many restaurants offering “tsukimi” dishes with fried eggs or extra egg yolks, as the yolk is often compared to the yellow harvest moon. One of the most viral versions is Mcdonald’s Tsukimi Burger, which has been a popular seasonal item for years. Other dishes you might find include tsukimi udon, soba, curry, and ramen.

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