Behold the Harvest Moon: Exploring Japan's Otsukimi Festival

Behold the Harvest Moon: Exploring Japan's Otsukimi Festival

Japan is known for its vibrant festivals all-year round. Although summer festivals typically steal the limelight in Japan's festival scene, one festival stands out after the succession of extravagant firework and dance festivals as summer draws to a close.

That particular celebration is called Otsukimi (お月見), the traditional moon-viewing festival. Similar to the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrated in other East Asian cultures, Otsukimi is held on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month in the Chinese calendar. In Japanese, this day is also known as Jyūgoya (十五夜) or Chūshū no Meigetsu (中秋の名月). Let's delve into the customs, food, and festivities that make Otsukimi a unique experience.

 

What is Otsukimi?

Full harvest moon and susuki
Photo by photoAC

Otsukimi, which translates to "moon-viewing", is an ancient Japanese tradition that dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185). During this festival, people gather to admire the beauty of the full moon, particularly known as the harvest moon, which is believed to be at its brightest and most stunning during the autumn equinox, marking the transition from summer to autumn.

In the past, the harvest moon provided valuable illumination for farmers to collect their crops during the evening hours. Nowadays, the festival's popularity has waned due to urbanization and limited visibility of the moon. However, it continues to be celebrated as an occasion for family and friends to gather, and to seek blessings for a prosperous harvest.

 

 

Practices and Customs of Otsukimi

Tsukimi dango placed on a Shinto stand
Photo by photoAC

During Otsukimi, Japanese households and public spaces are adorned with decorations that reflect the autumn season. One common practice is the making of tsukimi dango (月見団子) which are small, round rice dumplings offered to the moon as a symbol of appreciation of a bountiful harvest. These plain dumplings are arranged in a pyramid shape and are typically placed on a decorative plate or a special wooden Shinto stand called a sanbo (三方・三宝) facing the moon.

Rabbit decoration for Moon-viewing Festival
Photo by photoAC

Rabbit decorations are also associated with Otsukimi because of a traditional Japanese folktale involving a mochi-making rabbit on the moon, known as "Tsuki no Usagi" (月の兎) or "The Moon Rabbit". 

 

Delectable Otsukimi Cuisine

A bowl of chestnut rice
Photo by photoAC

Apart from the iconic otsukimi dango, which are soft and chewy and are often served with a sweet soy-based sauce, other traditional dishes associated with Otsukimi include seasonal delicacies such as chestnuts, sweet potatoes, and persimmons. These ingredients are used to prepare mouthwatering dishes like kuri gohan (栗ご飯 chestnut rice) and baked sweet potatoes!

 

Events and Festivities

Full harvest moon in Yokohama Port
Photo by photoAC

Although not widely celebrated nowadays, there are still various events and festivities organised to celebrate Otsukimi throughout Japan. One popular activity is attending moon-viewing parties held in parks and gardens. These gatherings provide an opportunity for friends and families to come together, enjoy the moonlit scenery, and appreciate nature's beauty. Additionally, some neighbourhoods host festivals that include traditional dances and music, to enhance the festive spirit.

Confectionery and F&B brands also don't hold back during the weeks that lead up to this celebration, as you'll find loads of autumn and otsukimi-inspired treats (Tsukimi Burger, anyone?) being sold that amp up the festivity!

 

Experience the Magic of Otsukimi with JAPAN RAIL CLUB

From the mesmerising full-moon-viewing practices to savouring delicious tsukimi dango, Otsukimi offers an unforgettable experience that will leave an indelible mark as Japan welcomes the autumn season.

As you plan for your next visit to Japan during the Otsukimi festival, be sure to first check out JAPAN RAIL CLUB's Omiyage Box! This exclusive snack subscription programme allows you to savour a variety of traditional Japanese snacks that have been handpicked across Japan's renowned railway network. Immerse yourself in the flavours of Japan and enhance your Otsukimi experience with this delectable snack subscription.

Meet the author

Sue Lynn

Currently based in Tokyo, Sue Lynn first came to Japan as a university exchange student. With 6 years of experience in Japan's inbound tourism, she is familiar with Japan, particularly on rail passes and East Japan spots, and has a passion for travelling.

Sue is also passionate about Japan's thrifting culture, and is keen to uncover more hidden gems while visiting all 47 prefectures during her stay in Japan.

Sue's 5Cs are cats, cameras, cinema, climbing, and city pop. Ask her about how her favourite JR Pass (JR TOKYO Wide Pass) saved her life (and wallet).

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The Star of Japanese Vineyards: Understanding t...

Where do Kyoho Grapes originate from? Japan's love for perfection and uniqueness has led to...