What is Tsukimi (月見)? Japan's Mid-Autumn Moon Festival


Tsukimi (月見) or Otsukimi (お月見) is Japan’s Mid-Autumn Moon Festival that is celebrated on the 15th night of the Lunar 8th month, which is why it is also known as Jyuugo-ya (十五夜), meaning 15th night. The foremost tradition of Tsukimi is observing the full moon but there are other accompanying traditions as well. 

Table of Contents

  1. What is Tsukimi (月見)?
    1. What is Jyuusan-ya (十三夜)?
  2. When is Tsukimi? (2023/2024)
  3. Legend of the Rabbit on the Moon
  4. Tsukimi Traditions in Japan
  5. Tsukimi Means Egg in Food - Tsukimi Season Limited Menus 

What is Tsukimi (月見)?

Tsukimi (月見) or Otsukimi (お月見) is the tradition of observing the full moon on the 15th night of the Lunar 8th month. The literal translation of Tsukimi (月見) is “moon viewing”; 月 (tsuki) meaning “moon”, and 見 (mi) meaning “looking” or “viewing”. Since it is celebrated on the 15th night, Tsukimi is also know as Jyuugo-ya (十五夜) meaning “15th Night”; 十五 (jyuugo) meaning “15”, and 夜 (yoru) meaning “night”. 

The tradition of Tsukimi was introduced from China to Japan during the Heian period (800 AD). During this time, the custom of eating mochi while observing the full moon became popular among Japanese aristocrats as a banquet event. Come the Edo period (1600 AD), Tsukimi became popular among the common people who celebrated it as a festival to celebrate and give thanks for the harvest, instead of as a banquet event like the aristocrats. 

In China, Tsukimi is known as 中秋节 (zhōng qiū jié), meaning “Mid-Autumn Festival” but also commonly known as Mooncake Festival, or simply Moon Festival. Apart from Japan, other countries like Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore also celebrate similar events.

What is Jyuusan-ya (十三夜)?

Jyuusan-ya (十三夜) is the Japanese custom of observing the moon on the 13th night of the Lunar 9th month to celebrate the harvest. While Jyuugo-ya (Tsukimi) originated from China, Jyuugo-ya originated from Japan and is only practiced here. Jyuugo-ya (Tsukimi) falls around the potato harvest season, while Jyuusan-ya is during the chestnut and beans harvest season. 

Observing the moon only on one day, either Jyuugo-ya or Jyuusan-ya, is known as 片見月 (katamitsuki) or 片月見 (katatsukimi), and is considered bad luck. Have fun observing the moon on both those days. 

When is Tsukimi? (2023/2024)

There is a 1~2 months difference between dates of the Lunar calendar and the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, the 15th night of the Lunar 8th month will fall between early September to early October on the Gregorian calendar. 

  • In 2023, Tsukimi will fall on September 29, 2023 (Friday)

  • In 2024, Tsukimi will fall on September 17, 2024 (Tuesday).

As for Jyuusan-ya (十三夜), the 13th night of the Lunar 9th month will fall between early October to early November on the Gregorian calendar. 

  • In 2023, Jyuusan-ya will fall on October 27, 2023 (Friday).

  • In 2024, Jyuusan-ya will fall on October 15, 2023 (Tuseday).

Legend of the Rabbit on the Moon

Many illustrations of Tsukimi feature rabbits on the moon - sometimes they’ll be pounding mochi. Where did these rabbits come from? And what do they have to do with Tsukimi? The answer is in a Japanese folklore that is often told during the harvest season - it goes like this:

Once upon a time, a rabbit, fox and monkey encountered an old man in a forest. The old man asked for their help to find food, saying he was very hungry. The monkey got some nuts, the fox caught some fish, but the rabbit could not find anything. The rabbit, after saying, “Please eat me,” jumped into a fire. Touched by the rabbit’s kindness and sacrifice, the old man who turned out to be a Kami (God) of the Moon resurrected the rabbit so that it may live on the moon forevermore. 

※ There are variations of this story but the gist remains the same. 

China also has its own legend related to the Mid-Autumn Festival, which also has a rabbit. The main character of the Chinese legend is however a lady named Chang'e. In the Chinese legend, Chang’e is accompanied by her pet rabbit to the moon after consuming the elixir of life. Some variations of the story have the rabbit pounding the elixir of life, similar to the mochi pounding rabbit. 

Tsukimi Traditions in Japan

Besides observing the moon, what do Japanese people do for Tsukimi?
In China, the Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated by eating mooncakes and lanterns, but in Japan it is celebrated by making offerings to the Gods in thanks for harvests.

Making Offerings

Tsukimi is strongly associated with the harvest festival in Japan, so people make offerings to the Gods to thank them for the year’s harvest. Likewise for Jyuusan-ya. Tsukimi offerings are usually:

Pampas Grass (ススキ susuki)

Pampas grass is believed to be a talismanic object that can drive away disease and disaster. Japanese pampas grass belongs to the same family as rice, and has for a long time been considered a lucky object that symbolizes rich harvest and prosperity for descendants. It is said that an odd number, such as 3 or 5, is the best number of pampas grass to be displayed for Tsukimi.  

Tsukimi Dumplings (月見団子 tsukimi dango)

Tsukimi dango is the standard food eaten during Tsukimi. On Jyuugo-ya, 15 dangos are offered; on Jyuusan-ya, 13 dangos are offered. Tsukimi dango are made from rice harvested in the fall, which has been ground into powder, and rolled into balls. They are decorated on a wooden stand and arranged to form a pyramid. The round dumplings symbolize the full moon. With the offering of tsukimi dango, thanks for the autumn harvest is offered to Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto and people pray for longevity, good health, and a bountiful harvest in the next year. 

Water or Sake 

In Japan, water and sake are commonly offered to Buddha or at Shinto shrines. As water and sake are often consumed during celebrations, it became used as an offering. During Tsukimi, fresh brew of sake (新酒 shinshu) and autumn brew sake are usually offered.  

Autumn Harvests

Tsukimi is a day to celebrate harvest, so autumn harvests are also offered. It is common to offer freshly harvested crops, such as taro, sweet potatoes, soybeans, and chestnuts. Autumn fruits such as persimmons, pears, and grapes are also common offerings. After being used as offerings, they can be eaten so there’s no waste. 

7 Autumnal Flowers (秋の七草 aki no nanakusa)

The 7 autumnal flowers are bush clover, Chinese silvergrass, kudzu, fringed pink, golden lace, thoroughwort, and balloon flower. They make for pretty decoration accents with autumn harvest offerings. 

Participate in Tsukimi Events

On Tsukimi, events are held at shrines and temples all over Japan. You can experience the atmosphere of Tsukimi with traditional Japanese instrumental music and lighting of bamboo lanterns. Look up「十五夜祭り」or「十五夜月見会」for details of events in your area. 

Tsukimi Means Egg in Food - Tsukimi Season Limited Menus 

Tsukimi (月見) has another meaning when it comes to food. In Japan, menu items with the word 月見 (tsukimi) means that the dish contains an egg because it resembles the full moon. For example, tsukimi udon (月見うどん), tsukimi soba (月見そば), otsukimi tsukune (お月見つくね), and more. 

When Tsukimi season comes around, usually in early September, many fast food chains in Japan start to release their Tsukimi menus. Among which, the most famous is McDonald’s Japan’s Tsukimi Burger that first rolled out in 1991, and still remains a super popular burger to this day. On the first few days of its release, it is not uncommon to see a long queue of customers (till outside the store!) lined up at McDonald’s to get a taste. 

After McDonald’s incredible success with its Tsukimi menu, more and more fast food chains have jumped on the bandwagon, including KFC, Mos Burger, Lotteria, etc. and Burger King, though with a pineapple instead of egg?! 


Originally from Malaysia, came to Japan to study in 2019 and stayed on for work. I love travelling and dream of one day visiting all 47 prefectures in Japan. What I love about Japan is the nature, culture, and food!

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