Tsukimi, also called otsukimi, is a family-friendly moon-viewing fall harvest festival. Ever since the Heian Era (794-1185), this tradition has lived on and continues to be one of the most celebrated events in Japan. Tsukimi is held on the 15th day of the 8th month and the 13th day of the 9th month according to the lunar (also known as lunisolar) calendar; this calendar follows the moon’s phases, which has been used for centuries.
How Tsukimi Began: The Rabbit on the Moon Folklore
Though this moon-viewing season was adopted from Chinese culture, the Tsukimi Festival incorporates various Japanese traditions, history, and culture. One part of this ancient tradition is the folklore about rabbits living on the moon, which plays a major role in the festival. The story goes like this: The Old Man of the Moon came down to Earth one day to test the kindness of three animal friends (a monkey, a rabbit, and a fox). Transformed as a beggar, the Old Man of the Moon wanted to know who was the kindest out of the three. He approached the friends, who were sitting around a fire, and asked if they had any food to spare.
The monkey gathered an abundance of fruit for the beggar. The fox brought the man a fish. But the rabbit did not have anything to give and offered to give himself as a sacrifice to the man by throwing himself into the fire and allowing the beggar to eat him. Before the rabbit could do so, though, the Old Man of the Moon transformed back into his original form. He said that the rabbit was a very kind soul and took the rabbit to live on the moon with him. This story, passed down through generations, contributes to the old-time Japanese belief that rabbits came from the moon.
‘Til this day, the Japanese continue to honor this old tale. Even restaurants, fast food joints, and other places in Japan have rabbit-themed goods to celebrate this folklore and the festival. You can find scenes of rabbits gathered together or rabbits pounding mochi (rice cakes), which is the main festival food to enjoy while moon viewing.
Spiritual Tsukimi Traditions
For people who are more involved in the Tsukimi period and have a stronger spiritual connection to this festival, there are various customs that Japanese people have that is only used during this time. Some of the traditions include:
- Visiting Shrines – Prayers are offered and incense is burned during the night of the moon-viewing festival. Shrines are popular sacred places families and individuals visit during the festival. Parades, shows, and other shrine-exclusive events are also available for you to participate in while you visit a shrine.
- Giving Offerings to the Moon God – This is an ancient Shinto tradition where offerings of Tsukimi dangos (rice cake dumplings) and crops such as chestnuts and taro are given to the Moon God in gratitude for the fall harvest.
- Decorating Roofs with Pampas Grass – Pampas grass is often used as an offering to the Moon God or to welcome the fall season. Some people still decorate their roofs with this special grass during the Tsukimi festival.
Tsukimi Festival Food
Of course, a festival isn’t complete without the accommodating foods that make the celebrations extra enjoyable! The Tsukimi dango is the centerfold of the festival. Unlike other dangos Japan is known for (e.g., on a stick covered in anko or sweet red bean paste), the Tsukimi dango are plain and sweetened slightly with sugar. For presentation and offerings, the dumplings are stacked in a pyramid shape. You can also make different toppings and sauces for the dangos. (Make your own Tsukimi dango here.)
Chestnuts are another festival favorite during the fall. Chestnut harvesting typically occurs in the fall, and you can even visit public chestnut harvesting areas to pick chestnuts of your own to take home. One place you can go to for chestnut harvesting is Sasaki Kuri-en. Other fall foods common during this season and at the festival include Japanese pumpkin (kabocha) and taro.
Fun Fact: Did you know that there are Japanese dishes that have the word ‘tsukimi’ in their name? For example, tsukimi udon is a noodle bowl that is topped with an egg (raw or cooked). The egg looks like a full moon, which is why ‘tsukimi’ is added to the name of the dish. Although some of these dishes are not common in the Tsukimi festival, you can find various foods that have the ‘tsukimi’ reference in their name.
Japan’s Mid-Autumn Festival and Japanese Whisky?
This fall festival usually doesn’t have Japanese whisky as part of the celebration. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Japanese whisky during this time! Here’s a fun fall-themed Japanese whisky cocktail you can try:
Yamazaki Autumn Delight Cocktail
Recipe from Liquor.com
2 ounces of Yamazaki 12-Year-Old Japanese Single Malt Whisky
6 ounces of apple cider
Garnish: Ground cinnamon, 2 apple slices, and 1 cinnamon stick
1. Pour the whisky and cider into a shaker with the ice.
2. Shake and strain the cocktail into a glass with fresh ice.
3. Dust the top with ground cinnamon and garnish to your presentation preferences with the 2 apple slices and cinnamon stick.
If you want to try this cocktail drink, be sure to grab your Yamazaki 12-Year-Old Whisky from Dekanta here!
For a comforting bowl of soup with a dash of Japanese whisky, you can try this Japanese Chestnut and Sweet Potato Soup that includes two generous tablespoons of Japanese whisky in the recipe.
Whisky Live: Tokyo 2016
Although the time for this whisky-centered event has passed, the Whisky Live Tokyo 2016 was held in September, so you can check the site for updates on the next Japan-based affair. If it’s in fall, then you can make it a fall occasion and even enjoy the moon-viewing festival while you’re in Japan!
Whisky Live is a worldwide luxury event that allows you to sample all kinds of whiskies in a high-end hotel lounge. It’s a fantastic way to taste your way through the wide range of Japanese whiskies!
Although there are no specific, national events in the fall where whisky is a prominent beverage, you can still celebrate the autumn season your own way with a bottle of classy, high-quality liquor. Explore Dekanta’s wide selection and find a whisky to take home!