Tsukimi (月見), or Otsukimi, is a Japanese festival that honors the autumn moon. A full moon usually occurs on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Japanese lunisolar calendar (the dates on the calendar show the time of the solar year), while the lunar phase or waxing moon, (where the sunlit portion of the moon is most evident) is on the 13th day of the ninth month of the year. In the Gregorian calendar, these would be on the months of September and October. This tradition can be traced all the way to the Heian Period when the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival was introduced to Japan. It is still a popular event today that many Japanese look forward to celebrating.
For the Tsukimi festival, the Japanese celebrate by decorating their homes with Japanese pampas grass (susuki). A popular dish for this festive occasion is Tsukimi dango, rice dumplings signifying the moon’s beauty. Other seasonal produce is also put out as offerings to the moon. A popular offering to the full moon are sweet potatoes; chestnuts or beans are usually offered to the waxing moon. Hence, the full moon celebration is called Imomeigetsu, which literally means “potato harvest moon” and the waxing moon celebration is called Mamemeigetsu, which means “bean harvest moon” or Kurimeigetsu, meaning “chestnut harvest moon.”
In this print, “Omi hakkei no uchi” by Sadatora (circa 1830), a mother and her child prepare roasted dango for the Tsukimi festival.
From 862 to 1683, the Japanese calendar had the full moon on the 13th day of every month. In 1684, the calendar was changed, with the new moon on the first day of each month. This moved the occurrence of the full moon two weeks later. Many Japanese celebrate Tsukimi by throwing parties to view the harvest moon. The tradition began in the Heian Period when Japanese aristocrats would celebrate by coming together to recite poetry under the “Mid-Autumn Moon” or by hosting moon-viewing events aboard boats to see the moon’s reflection on the water surface.
Matsumoto Castle is a popular venue to view the moon during Tsukimi. It was initially built as a military defense site. The castle has a Tsukimi “moon-viewing” turret, a room with large windows that open to the north, south, and east. It is said that you can see the moon in three ways all at once—one from the sky, another as a reflection on the water and the third in a cup of sake.
Matsumoto Castle. | Bengt Oberger