Every year, on August 15th of the lunar calendar, the countries of the East Asian cultural sphere happen the Mid-Autumn Festival jubilantly. Many people think that it has an origin in China. Basically, the Mid-Autumn Festival of these countries happen the same, but they also have some different points. In Japan, the Mid-Autumn Festival is called Otsukimi Festival (Moon-Watching Festival). In spite of being called a festival, Otsukimi Festival only takes place within the family or close friends.
The first Otsukimi seasons are held by the people in the period after harvesting summer crops and preparing to enter the wet rice harvest, with the purpose of asking God to bring good crops. With that in mind, Otsukimi Festival has dived into the spiritual life of Japanese people and is regarded as a great opportunity to enrich the hearts of children.
Origin of Otsukimi Festival
In Japanese, “Tsukimi” means watching the moon, while the sound “O” is often added to the front to show respect. The festival usually takes place on August 15th and 13th of the lunar calendar. This is an opportunity for everyone to enjoy the most beautiful moon night of the year.
There is a theory that Otsukimi Festival originates from the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival customs. This festival was passed on to the Japanese island nation through the Tang missionaries during the Heian period (794 – 1185). Originally, Otsukimi Festival was only for royalty and aristocracy, but by the Edo period (1603 – 1868) it was popularized as a folk festival.
Features of the Otsukimi Festival
The Otsukimi Festival is organized 2 times.
This is a unique thing only having in Japan. Besides August 15th of the lunar calendar, Otsukimi Festival is also organized the second time in about 1 month after, September 13th of the lunar calendar. If the night of August 15th is called “The night of fifteen”, the night of September 13th is called “The night of thirteen” or “The moon after”. Japanese people believe that if someone watches the moon of “The night of fifteen”, that person has to watch the moon of “The night of thirteen”. If someone only watches the moon of “The night of fifteen” would meet bad luck. This taboo, in Japanese langue, is called “Kata-tsukimi”. This is also the difference of Otsukimi Festival (the Mid-August Festival of Japan)
The legend of Jade Rabbit
If the Vietnamese imagine that the moon has a banyan tree and Cuội, the Japanese believe that there is a rabbit living in the kingdom of the immortal moon god and at night Otsukimi pounded the dough to make Mochi Cake. In addition, the image of a rabbit eating Dango Cake also appears in many localities across Japan. One of the legends of the rabbit that the most beloved Japanese children originated from Indian mythology. The legend tells of three animals: monkey, fox, and rabbit challenged by God. One day, God transformed into an old man, came and asked them for food. While the monkey quickly climbed up the tree to pick lots of delicious fruits, and the fox stole offerings from graves to give to the old man, the rabbit had nothing. So to give food to the old man, the rabbit threw themselves into the bonfire to donate themselves. Touched by the rabbit’s heart, God revived the rabbit and brought it to the moon to honor in front of everyone.
Offering the moon
Japanese consider Otsukimi Festival is the best time to honor the moon. This is also a chance to give thanks to heaven and earth for a good harvest. On this occasion, people use sticky rice cake Dango (On “The night of fifteen”, Japanese people usually put about 15 Dango Cakes on plates for worship, and on “The night of thirteen”, they use 13 ones.), taro, tofu, chestnut, and many other foods and sake wine to offer to the moon and heaven and earth. In addition, families also use Susuki weed, which symbolizes crops in Japan, to offer the moon and also scare away evil spirits.
Watching the moon
In the Japanese language, “Otsuki” means the moon, and “Mi” means watching, so “Otsukimi” means moon watching. This custom is so important that even though the weather is bad with no moon in the year, the Japanese people still celebrate the festival as usual.
At early “The night of fifteen” or “The night of thirteen”, Japanese choose a place to be able to watch the moon conveniently, in the room, in the garden or on the porch. People usually put a tray of Dango Cake and a pot of Susuki weed beside the place watching the moon to both watch the moon and eat the cakes.
At “The night of fifteen” or “The night of thirteen” Japanese also parades lanterns, but there are only the lanterns of Koi Fish. Koi Fish has many nice qualities such as courage and strength. Under natural conditions, Koi fish usually wades backstream. In Japan, Koi fish is considered as a symbol of a person’s strong will and success.