Among the Japanese recurrences known across the whole world, cherry blossom is certainly the most famous: hanami, the admiration of flowers, in particular those of cherry trees, is a millenary tradition with very deep meanings in Japanese culture.
Similarly to this typically spring celebration, Tsukimi is instead the autumn festival dedicated to the observation of the Moon (Tsuki: Moon, mi (from miru): to look). During the Heian period (784-1185) a Chinese custom started spreading in Japan, as the celebration of the mid-autumn full Moon (chushu no meigetsu) towards the middle of the ninth month, the Fall equinox, the day when festivals were organized in throughout the country, houses were decorated with susuki and the typical pastries of this festival were consumed, the tsukimi dango, rice cakes whose shape is reminiscent of that of the full Moon (see also Itadakimasu – Nihon Riori for Dummies, Cristina Gioanetti’s vlog on the preparation of Japanese Pastry).
Lo Tsukimi era una festa in cui i nobili si riunivano per ascoltare musica e comporre poesie al chiaro di luna, ma ben presto questa fTsukimi was a festival where nobles gathered to listen to music and compose poetry in the moonlight, but soon this holiday became very popular and so farmers began to pay homage to the crescent Moon as a symbol of good luck, to ensure the harvest of cereals, the foundation of national nutrition. Taking a leap in time up to the present day, there is no lack of similarities with similar celebrations in the same period but more typical of Western cultures, such as the modern Halloween: in Japan it was in fact a habit to leave sweets out of the houses, so that the Moon could take them, but also so that children could “steal” them. Restaurants in this period often also offer other moon-themed foods, “tsukimi” dishes with fried eggs or extra egg yolks, as the yolk is often compared to the yellow Moon of harvest, while among the curiosities one is certainly the Tsukimi Burger of McDonald’s, for years a popular seasonal item along with a whole series of other themed preparations, the Tsukimi Family, available only from September 8th until mid-October, or dishes like Tsukimi udon, soba, curry and ramen, in which the egg is always the major character, precisely because of the image that recalls the Moon given by the color and shape of the broken egg, being either raw or fried.
A significant testimony of the importance given to this festival in Japan is a place that still exists today, namely Katsura imperial mansion, located west of Kyoto and a house, among other things, that has been defined as hosting the most beautiful Japanese garden: built in starting from the end of the fourteenth century at the behest of Prince Toshihito, brother of Emperor Goyozei, this gorgeour mansion was designed to have a terrace, called, precisely, Terrace of the Moon (Tsukimadai), from where it was possible to admire the particular full Moon of this period.
Moon in all cultures has had a prominent place in folklore, beliefs, customs, both as good and evil: let’s just think about the divine contrast between the twins Artemis/Diana and Phoebus/Apollo, or about the Moon phases used by farmers, or about the white light that attracts fishes at night and known to fishermen since the seventeenth century, but also the association with witches and human madness, and up to the point of becoming a profound inspiration in art.
Like the Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji by Hokusai or the Fifty-three stations of Tokaido in Hiroshighe, our satellite inspired the Hundred Moons of Yoshitoshi (Tsuki hyakushi, One hundred aspects of he Moon), who, after the interest aroused in Japan by Western civilization, was one of the architects of the recovery of Japanese values and traditions and the last great master of ukiyo-e, the image of the floating world that with its coloured engravings on wood characterized the Edo period (17th-20th century) through the works of great artists such as Hokusai, Kunisada, Hiroshige, Kuniyoshi, of whom Yoshitoshi was an apprentice and student, Toyokuni and Katshushika.
The Moon has always aroused feelings of tranquility, protagonist of moments of reflection thanks to the unique atmospheres and emotions it manages to create and the depth of thoughts it can stimulate: observing the Moon is a pleasant exercise, in one crystalline night as well as during bad weather, with its multiple colours (see Marcella Giulia Pace’s photo published by NASA in its APOD list – Astronomy Picture of the Day, at https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap201111.html) and the infinite feelings that it is able to make one feels.
In the city or in the mountains, sitting and observing the Moon is always a beautiful and deeply personal exercise: you don’t need to be a haijin, the haiku poet, to be able to appreciate the relaxing sight, you don’t need to be an artist to be able to reproduce in another form what the Jade Lady is able to communicate. You can dive into the Eastern mythology according to which three animal friends, a monkey, a fox and a rabbit, met an elderly wanderer, exhausted by hunger. The three animals then worked hard to get food for him: the monkey, thanks to his agility, managed to climb trees to pick fruits, the fox stole some food from an unattended house, but the rabbit, lacking any particular skills, couldn’t get anything but weed. Sad but determined to offer something to the old man anyway, the little animal threw himself into the fire, giving his own flesh to the poor beggar. However, he turned out to be a divinity who, moved by the heroic virtue of the rabbit, drew his image on the surface of the Moon so that he would have been remembered forever by everyone.
It is not necessary to be passionate about astronomy to be captivated by this small celestial body that has so much to offer to anyone who looks up to the sky. One can be a cat lover and retrace the dreams and deeds of the Lovecraftian Randolph Carter, or let one own imagination fly to frame the Moon on objects and landscapes while sitting on a bench, one can simply walk relaxed in the light of a full Moon, whose night light is particularly powerful and evocative, even in a city, but I believe a fact remains a one should regain some of his time to enjoy this natural event, to change rhythms, to let personal thoughts go in a kind of little pleasant cathartic experience, cost-free activity available all over the world.
A different experience each time, due to its different light and how it reflects on the surrounding environment, on the water, among the plants, a milky presence and often forgotten benevolent companion of our hectic life.
Deta deta tsuki ga, marui marui manmarui, bon no you na tsuki ga
Kakureta kumo ni, kuroi kuroi makkuroi, sumi no you na kumo ni.
Mata deta tsuki ga, marui marui manmarui, bon no you na tsuki ga.
The Moon is coming out, the moon is coming out, wide and round, wide and round, round, round white and round like a plate is coming out
She is hiding, the Moon is hiding behind the clouds, dark clouds, black black clouds, white and round as a plate will hide soon
The Moon appears and reappears, large and round, large and round, round round, like a plate the moon will appear.
(nursery rhyme from https://www.nihonjapangiappone.com/pages/feste/shubunno.php)