Thursday, May 03, 2007

Shine on Harvest Moon

In 2006, the Harvest Moon appeared on October 6th. What a beauty!

Foiled again. Here it is, Spring-time and I am still trying to catch up with my autumnal kitties. Might as well not fight it and keep going with what I had originally intended. At this rate of posting I will eventually catch up with my seasonal efforts

Anyways, the next post that was supposed to follow the Aki no Mikaku kitties was my attempt at celebrating the first full moon of Autumn or Jugoya. This date is said to be the 15th of August on the Lunar Calendar which puts it roughly in September-early October. The practice of moon viewing was introduced to Japan via China during the Heian period. Its hard for me to decipher the early days of these moon viewing parties (o-tsukimi) but from what I can tell is that when it found its way to Japan it was first practiced by the nobility with poetry compositions and music inspired by the light of the full moon. However the rural farming classes soon adopted this event as part of their harvest season celebrations and rites. Today, tsukimi has a mixture of both the aristocratic and agrarian practices. Poetry, music and the drinking of sake are still enjoyed as well as offerings of round mochi (tsukimi dango), seasonal foods and displays of beautiful pampas grass and bush clover. Sadly, it has been noted that the tradition of tsukimi is fading in fading in Japan, but hopefully the younger, more globally-minded generations will give this tradition another resurgence.

Strangely enough, my familiarity with harvest moon celebrations comes from the Chinese tradition than Japanese. My family did not celebrate this event when I was growing up and my first introduction to it came from our extended family. My brother's wife and her family would bring us huge oranges, moon cakes and a tin of White Rabbit candies. When I started taking a closer look at Japanese celebrations I recognized their roots.

Trying to put together a tsukimi party was a chance for me to try out some new recipe ideas, eat lotus seed cakes and, oh yeah, celebrate the first full moon of Autumn. It would be a chance to herald in a season that shows up so subtly in Florida, and perhaps subtly in places and times that have become so far removed from nature and our dependence on what it provides us in terms of sustenance. It would also fuse together my original understanding of the Chinese celebration (the moon as a symbol of reunion of families) and a new found interest in my family roots.

The White Rabbit or Usagi

Kitty appears as the "rabbit in the moon". In the Japanese version of harvest moon celebrations it is said that if you look closely at the dark parts of the moon, you will be able to make out the shape of a rabbit pounding rice cakes. In the Chinese tradition, the rabbit is said to be making a magic elixir for the princess of the moon.

Tsukimi Kitty

Kitty introduces us to the most traditional elements of a proper moon viewing party: she holds the beautiful pampas grass (a symbol of Autumn) in her hands and sits beside an offering of round mochi

A close up of the Kitty's traditional offering of tsukimi-dango on a sanpo

Since I was going through a wagashi phase in the fall I decided to be a little more adventurous with my tsukimi-dango. I used a gyuhi mochi wrapped around a sesame seed infused bean jam. They looked better than they tasted. Back to the drawing board

I didn't have any sanpos so I improvised with some bamboo trays that are meant for sushi. Rather than try to find the specific food offerings that would have been made in Japan, I opted to display the foods that I associated with autumn and with my memories of the Chinese version. One small lotus seed moon cake represents that piece of the puzzle. It was very tastey too!

Kitty makes a "subtle, yet profound" appearance as the egg-as-moon in our harvest moon festivities - I made tsukimi udon (the presence of an egg is all I need to call it that). I will cover the joys of regional udon in the next post.

Princess of the Moon

Again, the Japanese and the Chinese legends concerning the harvest moon intertwine. In China there are a few versions of how a princess named Chang'e swallows a pill of immortality and flies to the moon. In Japan, the story turns to a special princess that is found in a shining stalk of bamboo by a poor bamboo cutter. She brings great joy and wealth to her adoptive parents, creates romantic havoc for many arrogant suitors and eventually breaks the hearts of all when she must return to her true home, the moon.

I have yet to purchase the battery, but this cute little version of Kaguyahime will light up at the push of this button. Its just as the story tells!


Blogger Marya said...

Hello!! It's been a while since I visited your blog, and I came around today to brownse at your pictures again, and was really happy to see that you updated!! ^^
From the Kitties you posted, I own the rabbit and the bench ones, it was really nice to find out their meanings!

10:35 PM  
Blogger cheeko-san said...

For me, finding out their meanings is the best part of these regional items -- thanks for visiting!

11:26 PM  
Blogger Hello_Esther said...

So true. I went to Japan for a week back in 2004. Of course I bought Kitty trinkets. I can't believe how much I learned after I got home trying to figure out what the heck Kitty was up to. I learned about wasabi farming, the Yakushima cedars, the famous gardens in Kanazawa, the alpine swamps of Oze, and just recently I found some Kitty goods in Orlando, FL that were in the form of traditional firefighters. That's how I happened upon your blog, trying to figure out what that drum-thingy-on-a-stick was.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Setsuna said...

Hello, I love your blog! I myself have a Hokkaido Marimo Kitty-chan.

I'm using your Kaguyahime photo as an avatar, I hope you don't mind! It's so cute...

8:24 AM  

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