The Japanese moon

by Stefan Chiarantano, Jan 28, 2006 | Destinations: Japan / Tokyo

While living in Komagane, I had wonderful views of the moon and enjoyed its beauty. On my evening walks, I would gaze up and admire its luminosity. Growing up, my references of the moon included the imaginary smiling face one could see on the moon's surface, werewolves, the song Blue Moon sung by jazz greats such as Mel Torme, and the Americans putting a man on the moon in 1969.

While living in Japan, I discovered the Japanese have a tradition of celebrating the moon with moon-viewing parties named Tsukimi and would venerate the moon with offerings of food and flowers.

Japan also has many legends and fables about the moon. They say that the shape of the shadow on the moon resembles a rabbit. There's a Buddhist tale of a rabbit voluntarily sacrificing his life to provide food for a hungry and starving Buddha. The Buddha to show his appreciation commemorated the rabbit by putting his face on the moon. Another favourite tale tells of how the craters and shadows on the moon were made by rabbits pounding rice to make mochi. Mochi is a special food made by pounding steamed rice in a pestle and mortar, and can be filled with something sweet like black sesame paste or dusted with icing sugar and is eaten during the New Year festivities.

It also happens to figure in the annual death of a few elderly Japanese seniors. It's quite sticky and can get stuck in the throat causing asphyxiation. A Japanese acquaintance, a firefighter, told me that choking on mochi could easily be avoided by eating nori, prepared seaweed, with it. According to Shintoism, a grain of rice symbolizes a human soul and mochi, which is made up of thousands of rice kernels symbolically, represents millions of souls.

The colour yellow represents the moon in Japan, which happens to be one of my favourite colours.

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