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Jugoya (Night of the Harvest Moon) - Japanese Encyclopedia

福島

Translated by Jasmine Nishino

Written by ニコ

2016.09.17

The night of the Harvest Full Moon in September is a very special celebration in Japanese culture. People enjoy moon gazing with rice cakes and sake, expressing their gratitude for good health and their prayers for good crops. Let us introduce the autumn festival known as Jugoya or Tsukimi.

The Harvest Moon Festival in Japan

After the end of the summer, when temperatures begins to drop, you will hear people mentioning the words Jugoya or Tsukimi. These words refer to the "the night of the Harvest Full Moon," the traditional custom of celebrating the autumn harvest. Let us introduce this custom of leisurely gazing at the September Full Moon and spending time under the moonlight.

A Regular Event Celebrating the Autumn Harvest

When is the night of Harvest Full Moon?

In the past, the Japanese used the lunar calendar, which is different from the calendar we use today. The ways to count the months are different, and according to the lunar calendar, autumn arrived in the eighth month of the year. The fifteenth of the eighth month happened to be in the middle of autumn and people referred to the "night of the 15th" as the day to celebrate and appreciate the year's harvest. That is why the night of the September Full Moon used to be called Jugoya (the 15th night).

With the lunar calendar following the waxing and waning of the moon, the 15th of the eighth month happened to be a full moon. Therefore, on the night of the 15th, it became a regular custom to observe the moon.

Why Offer Dango Rice Cakes and Pampas Grass?

In Japan, dango rice cakes and pampas grass are displayed in the home during Tsukimi ("viewing the moon").

The reason behind this custom comes from the festival celebrating the crops.

The pampas grass represents the rice grains and wishes for good crops for the year. The pampas grass is also said to ward away evil.

The round rice cakes represent the full moon and have been used as an offering to pray for the good health of children and their descendants.

Rabbits on the Moon? The Way the World Sees the Moon

In Japan, it is said that there are rabbits on the moon. The belief has derived from the shapes of the craters on the moon which are said to look like rabbits. Therefore, many songs about the jugoya commonly feature rabbits.

What about the rest of the world? In Europe, there are various perspectives depending on the area. In eastern Europe, they believe that the moon looks like the portrait of a lady, while in southern Europe they see a crab, and in northern Europe, they see an old lady reading a book.

Meanwhile, in Arabic countries, they see a lion, which is the complete opposite from rabbits.

How to Spend the Tsukimi Festival

Why not enjoy a relaxing jugoya at home? Gaze up at the moon while sipping some sake under the moonlight.

Move your table by the window and decorate it with some pampas grass and round dango rice cakes. It will make you feel like you slipped back to the Heian period while sitting back and savoring some sake or a meal under the moon. With the dango as dessert, your dinner will instantly turn into a festival of the moon!

It would surely be a fun evening plan to search for some rabbits on the moon or talk about the various stories about the moon in the world.

Aside from the traditional festivities, during this season in Japan, there are many sweets and fast food delicacies related to the moon or the jugoya ceremony on sale. The "Tsukimi Moon Burger" is a classic. It is a hamburger with a large egg representing the moon inside the burger. It is a seasonal menu only available during this time, so it is worth a try!

How about making the jugoya night a special event, celebrating it with friends and family?

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