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Lesson Transcript

Hello, and welcome to the Culture Class: Holidays in Japan Series on JapanesePod101.com. In this series, we’re exploring the traditions behind Japanese holidays and observances. I’m Becky, and you're listening to Season 1, Lesson 18: Moon-viewing.
Moon-viewing occurs in either September or October, depending on the year. During this time, people enjoy looking at the full harvest moon. According to an old Japanese calendar, the full moon was seen on the night of August 15th, a date which was called 十五夜 (Jūgoya), meaning "the night with a full moon." The moon of 十五夜 (Jūgoya) was honored as the most beautiful moon of the year. It’s said that the custom of moon-viewing comes from China.
Now, before we go into greater detail, do you know the answer to this question: what do we call the moon on the night of August 15th?
If you don’t already know, you’ll find out a bit later. Keep listening.
It’s thought that the custom of moon-viewing has been practiced since the Jōmon period —Japan’s prehistoric period—and became a fully fledged festival during the Heian period, from the 8th century to the 12 century. Influenced by China, Japanese nobility would drink together and play musical instruments under the beautiful moonlight; they would also recite poetry while setting boats afloat in a residential pond. One theory says that moon-viewing was a festival held to thank the god of agriculture, and that it was part of the harvest celebrations.
In modern times, places from which the moon is visible, such as verandas, are decorated with pampas grass. While the hay-like pampas grass may not look like anything special, since ancient times Japanese have believed it holds a certain charm and consider it to be one of the seven herbs of autumn. Along with pampas grass, offerings are made such as moon dumplings, taro, edamame, chestnuts, and liquor. Moon dumplings are served on a small wooden stand known as a sanbō. They are seen as a charm for health and happiness, and so the whole family eats them after finishing the moon-viewing.
An ancient saying in Japan still in use today advises people to avoid "one-sided moon-viewing." Moon-viewing is not only held on 十五夜 (Jūgoya), but also about one month later on the night of September 13th on the lunar calendar. This is known as Jūsanya. Moon-viewing just one day of 十五夜 (Jūgoya) or 十三夜 (Jūsanya), rather than both, is known as "one-sided moon-viewing"; according to tradition, it’s considered to be a bad omen.
Here’s our fun fact for the day! Are you familiar with 月見そば (tsukimi soba), meaning “moon soba” and 月見うどん (tsukimi udon), meaning “moon udon noodles," which are made by dropping an egg in the broth? These dishes got their names because the egg yolk is associated with a full moon. Here we can see how moon-viewing has permeated the daily lives of the Japanese.
Now it's time to answer our quiz question: what’s the name of the moon on August 15th?
It’s called 中秋の名月 (Chūshū no Meigetsu), meaning the "Mid-Autumn Moon." Mid-autumn of course refers to the middle of autumn. The Mid-Autumn Moon—golden and beautiful—can be seen when the weather is most comfortable in autumn. Since ancient times, people have viewed the pattern on the surface of the full moon differently. In Germany, some say it resembles a man carrying firewood; in Canada, a girl carrying a bucket; and in the Arab world, a roaring lion. In Japan, we say it looks like a rabbit making rice cakes.
Well listeners, how was this lesson?
Did you learn something new?
In your country, do you have the tradition of moon-viewing?
Please leave us a comment telling us at JapanesePod101.com.
And we’ll see you next time!