Tsukimi or moon-viewing is a Japan-wide festival held during the full moon phase in September or October to celebrate the harvest moon. The moon festival is usually held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Japanese lunar calendar however the date can vary on the western solar calendar. In 2022, tsukimi falls on the 10th of September. In this article, we will explore some of the many traditional tsukimi foods that people still eat today and offer to the moon at moon-viewing parties.
This festival was influenced by the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival and was first celebrated in Japan sometime during the Heian period. Over time the festival has evolved a lot but its core traditional components remain the same: tsukimi foods, poetry reading, and sake drinking while admiring the beauty of the moon.
There are a variety of traditional foods and meals eaten during tsukimi, most notably tsukimi dango, sweet potato, and taro.
Dango or dumplings are the most indispensable food to serve during tsukimi. Typically the dango packs sold in stores have 15 servings to represent the 15th night of the month.
The dango is then served in a pyramid-like structure with the top dango being yellow to represent the moon. When you eat the dango you should carry the feeling of gratitude as it is said to bring good fortune and health if you do.
If you serve it at home it is a good idea to have five to ten bunches of pampas grass, also known as susuki, around for decoration. This plant represents a bountiful harvest of rice plants and is said to help ward off evil spirits.
In Japan, some stores will sell individual dango that have a rabbit or pampas grass designs incorporated into them.
There are also regional differences in how the dango are prepared. In the Kansai region, the dango are shaped long to look like a Taro. Kyoto-style tsukimi dango also follow this trend, except people wrap them in red bean paste.
In Shizuoka, the center of the tsukimi dango is dented and it is referred to as “Heso-mochi”. However, in Nagoya, the dango are shaped long to look like a raindrop and they come in three colors – white, pink, and black.
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Tsukimi soba is another traditional tsukimi food made with hot buckwheat soba noodles served with an egg yolk on top which is meant to resemble the full moon. You can also add grated yam to represent pampas grass. If you don’t have soba you can substitute the noodles with udon noodles to make tsukimi udon. In Japan, raw egg is safe to eat and is commonly used as the topping but you can use soft or hard-boiled eggs if you want.
Sweet Potato Rice or Chestnut Rice
Both sweet potatoes and chestnuts are in season during tsukimi so it’s popular to make rice dishes that mix the ingredients together. When the sweet potatoes or chestnuts are cut their yellow color can be seen – their yellow color is a metaphor for the full moon. This is called satsumaimo gohan.
Kenchin-jiru is a vegetable soup made with plenty of autumn ingredients that can be enjoyed with a large group of people. The most common ingredients are daikon radish, carrots, burdock root, konnyaku, and tofu. These ingredients are seasoned with dashi stock, soy sauce, and mirin. This soup is perfect for the typically chilly moon-viewing season.
Kinukatsugi is steamed or boiled taro potato while its skin is still attached. It is eaten by peeling the skin and adding salt. It used to represent the moon before dango became the signature dish of tsukimi.
It is said that since ancient times there has been a custom, referred to as tsukimatsuri, where people drink sake and admire the moon’s beauty, and give thanks to God for the harvest.
People refer to the harvest moon as “Imo Meigetsu”, whihch means “potato moon”. Ths is because it was thought the moon looks like a taro potato (satoimo). Taro was the staple food in Japan before rice, so it was used as an offering to express gratitude and a bountiful harvest.
Other vegetables such as green soybean and radishes are also commonly used as offerings.
Grapes are the most commonly offered fruits during tsukimi season because they’re considered to be lucky. Traditionally, people see vines as the bridge between themselves and the gods. Other offerings include persimmons and pears.
These are just some of the many traditional tsukimi food and offerings that people enjoy during moon-viewing season in Japan? Have you eaten any of these traditional dishes before? Which ones would you try? Let us know in the comments below!