On September 16th, Miko-chan awoke to the sound of Mama Kojin busy in the kitchen very early in the morning. She sleepily sat down at the kitchen table, rubbing her eyes to make sure she was really seeing the little soft white balls being prepared by the old green kitchen goddess. “What are those?” asked the shrine maiden doll. Mama Kojin explained “they are tsukimi dango – tonight we will be honouring the autumn harvest moon by holding a moon viewing in the back garden, and these are both served and offered to the moon.”
“Why is it so special tonight?” asked Miko-chan. ‘Well,” explained Mama Kojin, “tonight is the full moon closest to the autumn equinox, and often appears very bright and large. Many cultures celebrate this full moon as it used to allow the harvest to continue into the night under its glow. In Japan during the Heian era (794 – 1185) it was popular to hold elegant waterside banquets to wonder at its beauty, and poems were composed in its honour and read aloud. It is known as Otsukimi (お月見).
Miko looked out of the window at the morning sky, which had quite a few clouds. “What happens if you can’t see the moon when it is full?” Mama Kojin smiled. “That doesn’t stop the parties, which sometimes take place for a few days either side of the full moon to allow for a glimpse, but if you can’t see it at all it is called Mugetsu – ‘no-moon’ (無月), or Ugetsu, ‘rain-moon’ (雨月). You will also be pleased to know that we get to decorate too – we will make a display of autumn grasses – susuki (pampas grass) is particularly lovely at this time of year. We will also prepare the family altar with a pile of these tsukimi dango (rice dumplings) as well as kabocha (pumpkin), chestnuts and taro potato.
Kiku appeared at the doorway. “Any special food for us?’ he asked hopefully. Mama Kojin laughed loudly. “Yes, it being a celebration of the harvest, food is very important. I will be making Tsukimi udon for us tonight – a hearty dish of boiled noodles in broth with nori and an egg on top. Kiku licked his lips – he was very much looking forward to the moon’s arrival!