The Mark of Beauty : Moon Viewing (Otsukimi)

NHK Educational

Point 1 : Admiring the moon
Moon viewing is the practice of gazing at the moon and enjoying its sacred beauty. In particular, it refers to the viewing of the autumn moon on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the old lunar calendar (which falls between mid-September and early October by today’s calendar).
From Heian period aristocrats to the commoners of the Edo period, the Japanese have long admired the moon as a sort of sacred deity.  The full moon is considered particularly beautiful in mid-autumn, when the air is crisp and clear.  
During the Heian period (794–1185), aristocrats would gather together in the evenings to admire the moon, recite poetry, and play instruments. They would admire the reflection of the moon on the surface of ponds or on the surface of their cups of rice wine. The elegance of these aristocratic traditions are evident in the Kokinshu poetry anthology.
“Flowers, birds, wind, and moon” (kacho fugetsu) is a Japanese phrase expressing the natural beauty of the seasons. The inclusion of the moon in this phrase exemplifies the special appreciation of the Japanese for the aesthetics of this celestial orb.   Many works of art and literature grew out of admiration for the moon.
Point 2 : Offerings
Japanese have always presented offerings for ritual viewings of the moon. With the moon itself as the object of worship, they would give thanks for a bountiful harvest and make offerings of their crops. The miscanthus grass served as a yorishiro—an earthly presence in which a divine spirit of the moon might temporarily reside.
The white cakes (dango) are a quintessential offering for moon viewings. Made of rice flour, they are formed into balls that represent the shape of the moon.
In the Edo period (1603–1868) the custom of moon viewing spread among the populace. The miscanthus grass (susuki) and round dango cakes shown in this print were standard offerings in Edo (present day Tokyo). Different regions had other kinds of offerings.
The fifteenth night (of the eighth lunar month) is known as jugoya (fifteenth night), or alternatively as imo meigetsu (potato moon). This is because the moon was compared to a taro potato (satoimo), which is a round, white tuber with vigorously growing stalks. Sometimes these potatoes are offered instead of or alongside dango cakes during moon viewings. In the Kansai region, around Osaka and Kyoto, it was traditional to offer to the moon the first taro potatoes harvested that year. This tradition continues into the present day.
Under an autumn full moon, the time passes luxuriously and elegantly. 
The Mark of Beauty : NHK Educational
Credits: Story

© tamayura39 – Fotolia
National Diet Library Digital Collections
© sasazawa – Fotolia
© promolink – Fotolia
Nishijin Tondaya

Photography by Tadayuki Minamoto

Music by Ryu (Ryu Matsuyama)

Supervised by
Maezaki Shinya, Associate Professor, Kyoto Women's University
M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum

Produced by NHK Educational Corporation


Credits: All media
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