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.
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.
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:
Nani mite haneru
Jyuugoya o-tsukisama mitewaneru
What are you looking at while you leap?
It looks at the Jugoya moon while it leaps
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.
Julia has two passions in life: traveling and food. She fell in love with Japan during her first trip to Tokyo and studied Japanese in college. She loves all things Studio Ghibli, Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings, and spends her free time baking or reading.