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Jugoya

[An evening to appreciate the beauty of fall moon]

Fabrizio: Hello, Kancho-san. What are you going to do with all that long grass?

Manager of L'ESPACE Community Center (Kancho): Hello, Fabrizio-san. This pampas grass is called susuki in Japanese. I just picked them out there to use for the decoration of otsukimi. Jugoya is tomorrow night.

Fabrizio: I don't know anything about jugoya or otsukimi. What are they?

Manager: Otsukimi is a Japanese tradition of moon viewing. The night of August 15 is called jugoya and is said to be the evening when the fall moon looks most beautiful.

Fabrizio: But Kancho-san, it is already September, not August.

Manager: You are right. It is based on the lunar calendar that was used in olden times in Japan. By converting it to the today's solar calendar, the day of jugoya, or August 15 on the lunar calendar, falls sometime between mid September and early October, depending on the year. For this year, it is September 14.

Fabrizio: I see. I didn't know that Japanese people used the different calendar back then.

Manager: On the evenings of jugoya, the moon looks slightly different each year but usually appears nearly full and round, shining beautifully in the night sky.

Fabrizio: So otsukimi is the event for Japanese people to enjoy the view of the full moon.

Manager: Yes. It is also a common custom to prepare white round rice dumplings called "tsukimi dango" and decorate them along with the susuki grass. In some regions and areas, people use different types of sweets, sweet potatoes, chestnuts, pears, or other items for the otsukimi decoration. Some fall flowers, such as ominaeshi (patrinia scabiosifolia) and hagi (bush clover), are occasionally added as well.

Fabrizio: Why do people prepare such a special decoration for otsukimi?

Manager: The otsukimi decoration began as an offering to the moon to show the appreciation for the year's harvest. It has been a long custom in Japan to appreciate the view of the full moon as the symbol of fertility.

Fabrizio: How old is the custom of moon viewing?

Manager: It is said that the custom of moon viewing was first introduced to Japan from China sometime during the 9th and 10th centuries. While it was originally celebrated only by the nobility, the custom became popular among common people in the Edo period.

Fabrizio: I see.


[Legend of "rabbit in the moon"]

Manager: You see, there are bright areas and dark areas on the surface of the moon.

Fabrizio: Yes, they look like a pattern of something.

Manager: Do you know how the ancient Japanese interpreted that pattern?

Fabrizio: Well, people in south Europe see it as a crab with a large claw. I don't know about Japanese interpretation, though.

Manager: People thought that rabbits lived in the moon and were pounding mochi (rice cake).

Fabrizio: That's interesting. So is that why people in Japan offer rice dumplings to the moon?

Manager: Well, you may be right! I heard that people in China and other Asian countries also see it as rabbits.

Fabrizio: I see.

Manager: Would you like to do otsukimi yourself? Here, take some susuki with you. I've got plenty of them.

Fabrizio: Oh, thank you very much. Where should I put the decoration?

Manager: Near a balcony, a window, or any places in your house where you can see the moon. I do my otsukimi on an engawa (veranda). You can find the dumplings at a wagashi (Japanese sweets) shop.

Fabrizio: OK.

Manager: It may be also interesting to you to visit some otsukimi events like this:

Mukojima Hyakkaen Garden Tsukimi-no Kai (Moon Viewing) September 13 - 15
    (event information; only available in Japanese)

Fabrizio: That sounds great. Thank you for the information.

Manager: Enjoy a nice, cooler evening of fall!
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