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Harvest Moon, Elegant Moon Event in Japan

The lunisolar calendar has been used in East Asia under the influence of China. Since it was changed to the Gregorian calendar in 1872 in Japan, the lunar-solar calendar is called "lunar calendar" and although the old calendar is rarely used today, it still remains as an annual event.

One of them is August 15 in the old calendar. In various parts of East Asia, there is a custom of appreciating the moon on this day, although it also means ancestor worship or harvest festival. In China, there is a custom of eating geppei in chushusetsu, but in Japan, it is called "harvest moon" and the custom of displaying Japanese pampas grass and offering dumplings was established in the late Edo period. August 15th in the old calendar in Japan is the day of full moon which is from September to October in the Gregorian calendar. 

At this time in Japan, there were many days when the weather was not good because it coincided with the season of typhoons and autumnal rain, but when it is fine, the clear air enveloped the moonlight and the clear air permeated the moonlight. Susuki (Japanese pampas grass), one of the seven autumn herbs, is a gramineous plant that grows in grasslands. It was also called kaya (thatch), and was a familiar plant used as a material for thatched roofs. Therefore, there was a grassland called kayaba to procure Japanese pampas grass. Japanese pampas grass produces shiny silver spikes in autumn. The pampas grass that fills the meadow is shaken by the wind in the moonlight of the full moon, which is very fantastic, and even today, similar scenes can be seen in the riverside of a large river.

It is said that the custom of moon viewing was introduced to Japan in the early Heian period. In the Heian period, nobles not only looked up at the moon but also read waka (a traditional Japanese poem of thirty-one syllables) by loving the moon reflected on the water surface of a pond or a sake cup.

In Kyoto around this time, the sky in the west still has an afterglow of sunset, but the moon rises from the mountains in the east around 18:00 and rises high toward midnight. It is therefore beautiful to view from the west side of the water. Osawa-no-ike Pond of Daikaku-ji Temple, the Saga Imperial Palace, has been a famous viewing spot for the moon since ancient times. From this, it is thought that the reflection of the beautiful moon and the shadow of the mountain on the water surface in the pond was so beautiful. Murasaki Shikibu is said to have written the world's oldest novel, ”The Tale of Genji” at Ishiyama-dera Temple in Shiga Prefecture located on the west bank of Lake Biwa, which is the largest lake in Japan. The great moon from Ishiyama-dera Temple was painted in the ukiyo-e "Ishiyama Akizuki" by Hiroshige Utagawa. Both Ishiyama-dera Temple and Daikaku-ji Temple are still famous sites for Kangetsu-sai (an event to enjoy the harvest moon).

Stay tuned for the next post.

Written by Yoshimi Matsuta