Tsukimi: The Autumn Moon-Viewing Festival in Japan
It’s finally autumn, the season of golden leaves, crisp air, spooky creatures, delicious food, and Tsukimi.
Tsukimi (月見), also known as Otsukimi (お月見), is a traditional mid-autumn moon (月) viewing (見) festival in Japan that was imported from China during the Heian period (794 to 1185). On this day, people view the full moon as it’s considered the clearest night of the year when the moon is most beautiful. They also pray for an abundant harvest in the future while giving offerings to the moon in appreciation for the current harvest.
Tsukimi was originally held on August 15th according to the old lunar calendar, which was considered the middle of autumn and the best day to view the moon. This is why it also goes by the name Jyuugoya (十五夜), meaning “15th night”. However, Tsukimi now falls in September or October, and the date changes every year according to the Gregorian calendar. For instance, this year (2021), Tsukimi is held on September 21 while next year (2022), it will be held on September 10.
Tsukimi is not only associated with moon-viewing, which is a relief when the weather isn’t so kind and clouds are obscuring your view of the moon. (This is also a relief for parents who want to get their little ones to bed early!) As with many Japanese traditions, it is typically celebrated at home with food, decorations, and song, all of which you can enjoy with your family. (And after your child is tuckered out and dreaming of rabbits and mochi, you can relax with some sake while gazing at the moon.)
What to Eat on Tsukimi
On Tsukimi, people usually eat otsukimi dango (お月見団子), which are small, round dumplings made of rice flour. There are regional variations when it comes to the shape and flavor of otsukimi dango. For instance, in Kanto the dango are round and plain while in Kansai, the dumplings are shaped like teardrops and rolled in anko (red bean paste). Otsukimi dango should be eaten while looking at the moon.
Kansai-style tsukimi dango
Dango can be a choking hazard, which is why it’s recommended that you don’t give it to young children, especially those under the age of three. However, there’s plenty of substitutions for dango you can serve to your little one, like mashed potato or sweet potato rolled into balls or even small rice balls.
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In the image above, I made a Tsukimi plate for my 2-year-old and instead of tsukimi dango made of rice flour, I made it out of sweet potato, rice, and soybean flour.
Tsukimi is also a great time to introduce autumn food to your little one as it’s associated with the autumn harvest, such as sweet potatoes (satsumaimo), chestnuts (栗・kuri), and beans (豆・mame). One of these autumn foods is usually displayed as an offering to the moon. Sweet potatoes are offered to the full moon (sweet potato harvest moon or imomeigetsu) while chestnuts and beans are offered to the waxing moon (chestnut harvest moon or kurimeigetsu and bean harvest moon or mamemeigetsu, respectively).
(This cute Japanese autumn food decoration is available on Amazon Japan.)
People like to top their soba or udon with a raw egg as well on Tsukimi as it resembles the moon.
You can also find Tsukimi-themed burgers and desserts at fast-food chains in Japan like McDonald’s and KFC during September.
A Tsukimi burger and pie (filled with anko and mochi) that my husband got from McDonald’s.
What better way to welcome autumn than to decorate your home for Tsukimi?
Happy 2 Months, my darling girl 🎑 pic.twitter.com/JQXKaNmR7R
— Kay 🌙 (@tinyintokyo) September 11, 2019
Common decorations include susuki and otsukimi dango. Tsukimi is also associated with rabbits and mochi as in Japan, it’s believed that there is a rabbit on the moon pounding mochi.
Susuki (pampas grass) resembles rice stalks and is believed to protect the harvest from evil spirits and ensure that the harvest is bountiful next year. It is displayed alongside the offerings to the moon in a vase.
Otsukimi dango are shaped to look like the full moon and are given as offerings to the moon to show gratitude for the harvest. Traditionally, otsukimi dango are displayed on a stand called sanpou (三宝). Some people display 15 otsukimi dango, which represent the 15th day of the month, while others display 12 to represent the 12 months of the year.
What would Tsukimi be without the rabbit living on the moon? People in Japan like to display little rabbits during Tsukimi and even enjoy rabbit-shaped sweets like daifuku. I love rabbits and the moon so Tsukimi is one of the best Japanese traditions (in my humble opinion) and I love to decorate for it.
Where to Find Decorations
You can find decorations featuring some or all of the above at 100 yen stores or department stores sometimes but there’s also a great selection online. Here are some of my favorites:
I find this night scene absolutely beautiful and almost reminiscent of Halloween with its yellows and dark purples. It’s great to hang in the home when it’s time for Tsukimi and then easy to put away since it’s cloth.
This can be used for not only Tsukimi but for other Japanese traditions like New Year’s.
Rabbits Pounding Mochi
This colorful display of two rabbits pounding mochi is really cute and something young children may enjoy looking at (although keeping it out of their grasp is another story!).
Books about Tsukimi
To help your little one learn about Tsukimi and get into the Tsukimi spirit, why not try reading them one of these books? It’s fun to read all the different tales surrounding this tradition as well!
As the title suggests, this book is about the moon wanting to eat dango.
You may remember this ghost from a popular book called ねないこだれだ. This time, the ghost finds a lost and crying rabbit and attempts to make the rabbit feel better.
10ぴきのかえる is a beloved series of books in Japan about… well, ten frogs! In this book, the ten frogs prepare for Tsukimi but run into some roadblocks.
This book may be a bit too advanced for toddlers (unless yours can sit still when you read lengthy text), but it’s a nice story about different animals celebrating Tsukimi.
Tsukimi is a great time to do some fun crafts with your child if they are old enough. Here are a few that are fairly simple.
This is a cute papercraft for older children, or you can make it for your child and they can decorate and play with it.
This is another craft that you will mostly have to do on your own, but your child will lend a hand to make the bunnies.
Now that I’m a mom, I’m learning a lot about traditional Japanese songs associated with events like Tsukimi. Here are a few that may be fun to listen to with your little one and even sing along to.
This is probably the most famous song associated with Tsukimi. It’s a very simple and beautiful song about rabbits jumping excitedly while they look at the moon.
This is a fun song that features hand movements you can do with your child. It might be a little difficult for younger children but they might still enjoy watching it and giving the hand movements a try like my daughter does.
I hope this overview of Tsukimi and how you can celebrate it with your little one has been helpful! Have a happy Tsukimi, everyone!
We didn’t plan for anything, but I did borrow a tsukimi themed book from the library on accident. It’s called トコトコバス so I thought it would be a story about a bus, haha. L is super in love with this book. For me it reminds me a little bit of Ghibli with the special bus stops and the increasingly strange passengers.
I just looked up トコトコバス and it definitely seems like it’s just about a bus and not Tsukimi-themed at all! It sounds interesting, I’m going to try to see if our local library has it.