The most important celebration of early autumn in Japan is Tsukimi (月見). Although in the modern era it has been reduced to special tsukimi-burgers in MacDonalds, it is originally a harvesting festival with roots from China.
The name of the festival is a portmanteau of tsuki = moon and mi = observe and basically refers to moon-viewing. The autumnal moon-viewing of tsukimi is the equivalent of the vernal cherry blossom-viewing of hanami.
The midautumn festival has moving dates every year, as they are calculated based on the 15th of August of the lunar calendar. In the past, people were celebrating the day by watching the reflectance of the full moon in glasses of sake, in ponds or its form through a hole in an eggplant!?. Later, during the Edo period, it became a custom to observe the 15-day and 13-day moon. If one failed to see the moon both times, it was considered a bad luck.
The purpose of the festival was to request an abundant harvest from the gods, to whom people offered taro potatoes and edamame beans. In China, at some point it became customary to make circular mini cakes resembling the shape of the full moon, conveniently called mooncakes.
In 2020, the midautumn moon (中秋の名月) was on the 1st of October. On that day, a lot of people go out to capture pictures of the magnificent full moon or just to enjoy watching it.
The mid-autumn festival is one of the biggest festivals in the Chinese calendar together with the new year, so it is fitting to visit the Yokohama Chinatown on that day. This year, the celebrations were scaled down due to obvious reasons, so the main attractions were a website of wishes to the moon and a decorative moon. I didn’t expect that the decorative moon would be an actual large moon balloon, illuminated blue-purple, located next to the Taoist Masobyo temple in the middle of the Chinatown.
There was also a stamp rally with mooncakes as prize, but it ended early and I didn’t get to participate. Instead, I wondered around the shops, managing to secure a modest supply of chinese tea, dried fruits and sweets.
Finally, we spent some time playing with hedgehogs and ferrets at a nearby pet cafe. I would love to own a ferret, but a rental apartment in a country you are not going to stay long enough is not the best environment to raise a pet.
As a worthy mention, advertisements of the new giant Gundam mecha robot were covering the Motomachi-chukagai metro station. The Gundam successfully passed its first test to walk at the Yokohama development facility. It is indeed a marvel of mechanics, built with the unfathomable enthusiasm of the people from an engineering school that was founded with the sole purpose of making a real-life moving robot an actuality.
I am looking forward to next years’ mooncakes, as I am still looking for a specific one that I tasted 3 years ago. A mooncake with a filling of chopped nuts and pomegranate, similar to the morbid-but-delicious ‘kollyva’ served at Greek funerals. Such an unexpected merger of concepts.
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