Happy Autumn Moon Festival!

Hi all,

In the past, I usually posted about specific holidays, but because I have friends from Japan, Korea and China, I realized that it was the same basic festival celebrated in different ways. I’m sure Vietnam has it too (due to influence from China), but I don’t know anything about it. Comments and information appreciated.

This year, Autumn Moon Festival is celebrated September 19th in 2013, but

China

The Autumn Moon Festival originates with Chinese culture, and celebrates the harvest of rice during Autumn. Nowadays, it’s called 中秋節 in Taiwan and 中秋节 in the People’s Republic of China. For both countries, it’s pronounced zhōngqiū jié according to Wikipedia which just means “Mid-Autumn Festival” because it’s celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Lunar Calendar.

Like Chinese New Year, it’s highly festive, with family gatherings, lanterns, etc. One of the most famous things about the Festival though are Moon Cakes (月餅/月饼, yuè bĭng). Our friend brought these mooncakes when we celebrated a baby-shower for him and his wife (Congratulations B and H!). Interestingly, their baby will be work 6 days after ours.

Anyhow, here are the mooncakes that “B” brought:

Chinese Moon Cakes

The mooncakes had different fillings: lotus-root, red-bean (あずき), green tea and jujube fruit. They were all very tasty.

In any case, Mid-Autumn Festival is considered one of the 4 most important holidays in Chinese culture and has deep roots in Chinese communities throughout the world.

Korea

Korea celebrates Autumn Moon Festival as Chuseok (추석, 秋夕) which is known as “Korean Thanksgiving”, similar to American Thanksgiving. Like the Chinese Festival, it includes a lot of family gatherings, good food and such. I’m not aware if moon cakes are eaten during Chuseok. Instead, Koreans eat different foods to celebrate Chuseok. I’ve written about it here and here.

One thing I didn’t really mention about Chuseok before is that there’s also an important ceremony done to pay respects to the ancestors. This happens in Chinese culture as well, so they’re related traditions. In the Korean tradition, this is called jesa (제사, 祭祀).

The particular type of rite for Chuseok is called charye (차례, 茶禮) which is an elaborate offering of tea and foods to the ancestors. Interstingly, one our friends is Japanese, but ethnically Korean (在日) and she says that even though they don’t really follow Korean traditions anymore, they still do jesa at certain holidays.

…and of course, if you’re a K-Pop fan, you get to see your favorite stars dressed up in Hanbok to give a Happy Chuseok message to fans.

Japan

Japan celebrates a somewhat different holiday around this time called otsukimi (お月見). It’s somewhat smaller than the Autumn Moon Festival, and people do not pay respects to the ancestors because this is already done during Obon the previous month.

Instead, Otsukimi is a more low-key tradition to gather as a family and watch the full moon, eat mochi rice-cakes and maybe have a little something to drink. 😉 Like the Chinese and Korean festivals though, it’s a holiday to celebrate the moon, and appreciate the hard work done during the year. The weather is usually cold and cloudy in Seattle, so my wife and I don’t really do this but the weather has been warm and nice this year, so perhaps we’ll do otsukimi afterall.

Speaking of mochi, there is a legend in Japanese tradition that the moon is made out of mochi by a rabbit that lives in the sky. As the rabbit pounds rice into mochi, the moon waxes (grows), then the rabbit eats the moon when it’s full and it wanes again. You can find this legend mentioned even in modern pop-culture. The opening theme-song of the anime 宇宙兄弟 (“Space Brothers”) has the line:

ウサギに負けず高く跳ぶのさ
usagi ni makezu takaku tobu no sa

Which might be translated as “I won’t lose to the rabbit and take a great leap [to the moon]”.

Finally, I thought I would post my favorite “moon” poem from the famous Hyakunin Isshu anthology, also mentioned in the other blog:

天の原 Ama no hara
ふりさけ見れば Furisake mireba
春日なる Kasuga naru
三笠の山に Mikasa no yama ni
出でし月かも Ideshi tsuki kamo

And Professor Mostow translates it as:

As I gaze out, far
across the plains of heaven
ah, at Kasuga,
from behind Mount Mikasa,
it’s the same moon that came out then!

Happy Autumn Festival Everyone!

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Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

6 thoughts on “Happy Autumn Moon Festival!”

  1. Japanese commemorate their ancestors at this time of year as Ohigan, which is timed to the equinox (sun calendar), while the moon festival is the lunar calendar, duh. By the way, I just noticed the phrase 仲秋の名月, Is this the actual date of the moon festival? Anyway, this year, tonight is the naka aki no meigetsu, and ohigan starts tomorrow.

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  2. Hi guys,

    Johnl: Good point. I totally missed the coming Ohigan holiday as well. Thanks for the reminder. Regarding the name, I looked it up on Wikipedia here:

    https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%9C%88%E8%A6%8B#.E5.85.AB.E6.9C.88.E5.8D.81.E4.BA.94.E5.A4.9C

    It sounds like it’s correct, but not entirely accurate anymore because it alludes to the lunar calendar. At least that’s my read of it.

    Arunlikhati: Thanks for the well-wishes. I wish there was more info on the Vietnamese Lunar Festival (what about Cambodia, etc?). The sources I found just kind of folded them into Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival.

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