Matsuri, Moon, Mythology

Otsukimi (月見)

Rabbits are heavily associated with the full moon (Image source unknown)
Rabbits are heavily associated with the full moon (Image source unknown)

Otsukimi is the Japanese Moon Viewing festival – a version of the Mid Autumn Festival of China (中秋節).

As this event is based on the lunar calender the date changes every year. However, it is always on the full moon of September. This year it falls on the 27th-28th September, depending where you are in the World – 3.50am on the 28th here in the United Kingdom. I will be celebrating it tomorrow night though – mainly as I did not realize how early the moon was full!

This blog entry is from a page of my personal ‘Book of Shadows’. I cannot remember where the story of the rabbit came from as this was collected over a year ago, but if anyone knows please do let me know!

Otsukimi – The Harvest Moon Festival

Originally, Otsukimi was a harvest festival but is now mainly used as a time for outdoor reunions among friends and family and to watch the moon – a symbol of balance, harmony and unity.

The Harvest Moon is also referred to as the Wine Moon or the Singing Moon. This is the time of the year when the last of the crops are being gathered from the fields and stored for the winter. There’s a chill in the air, and the Earth is slowly beginning its move towards dormancy as the sun pulls away from us.

The festival celebrates three fundamental concepts which are closely tied to one another:

  • Gathering: Family and friends come together, or harvest crops
  • Thanksgiving: To give thanks for the harvest
  • Praying: Asking for conceptual or material satisfaction


Traditional Associations

  • Burning incense: As an offering to the Moon and associated Moon deities
  • Feasting: Giving thanks for the harvest
  • Mooncakes: Mooncakes are a traditional sweet cake representing unity
  • Lanterns: Lanterns are lit and carried, as well as sky-lanterns being let off
  • Marriage: The festival is traditionally a choice occasion to celebrate marriage and to pray for romantic wishes

Ritual Associations

Offerings: Apples, pears, peaches, grapes, pomegranates, melons, oranges and pomelos

Foods for Feasting: Apple, watermelon, mooncakes, mochi, rice, corn, grains and wheat

Drinks: Sake, wine, cider

Colours: White, blue, green

Element: Earth

Crystals: Citrine, chrysolite, peridot, bloodstone

Animals: Rabbits, Dragons

Trees: Bay, larch, hawthorn

Deities: Inari, Chang-e, Brighid, Freyja, Demeter, other Moon deities

Herbs: Wheat, valerian, witch hazel, skullcap

Tools: A bowl of water, a mirror, tea set

Otsukimi Folklore

The Moon rabbit, or Jade rabbit (玉兔) is a rabbit that lives on the moon, based on the pareidolia that identifies the markings of the moon as a rabbit. This story exists in many cultures from Aztec to East Asian folklore, where it is seen pounding a mortar and pestle.

In Chinese folklore it is often portrayed as a companion of the moon goddess Chang’e, constantly pounding the elixir of life for her, but in Japanese and Korean versions, it is just pounding the ingredients for rice cakes.

The rabbit in the moon (Image from Wikipedia)
The rabbit in the moon (Image from Wikipedia)

A Japanese Fairytale: Tsuki no Usagi (The Rabbit in the Moon)

Once the Old-Man-of-the-Moon looked down into a big forest on the earth. He saw a rabbit and a monkey and a fox all living there together in the forest as very good friends.

Now, I wonder which of them is the kindest,” he said to himself. “I think I’ll go down and see.”

So the old man changed himself into a beggar and came down from the moon to the forest where the three animals were.

Please help me,” he said to them. “I’m very hungry.”

Oh! What a poor old beggar!” they said, and then they went hurrying off to find some food for the beggar.

The monkey brought a lot of fruit. And the fox caught a big fish. But the rabbit couldn’t find anything at all to bring.

Oh my! oh my! what shall I do?” the rabbit cried. But just then he got an idea.

Please, Mr. Monkey,” the rabbit said, “you gather some firewood for me. And you, Mr. Fox, please make a big fire with the wood.”

They did as the rabbit asked, and when the fire was burning very brightly, the rabbit said to the beggar: “I don’t have anything to give you. So I’ll put myself in this fire, and then when I’m cooked you can eat me.”

The rabbit was about to jump into the fire and cook himself. But just then the beggar suddenly changed himself back into the Old-Man-of-the-Moon.

You are very kind, Mr. Rabbit,” the Old Man said. “But you should never do anything to harm yourself. Since you are the kindest, of all, I’ll take you home to live with me.”

Then the Old-Man-of-the-Moon took the rabbit in his arms and carried him up to the moon. Just look and see! If you look carefully at the moon when it is shining brightly, you can still see the rabbit thee where the Old Man put him so very long ago.

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