As my husband and I drove home from a lake country gathering last night, an orb peered out from behind the clouds, glowing so brightly that before I could stop myself, I wondered aloud, “Is that the sun?“
Of course it wasn’t! The Harvest Moon had caught me off guard.
As the clouds drifted, revealing more of the orange sphere, my memories took me back to a gymnasium rooftop in little Shuho-cho, Japan, where a group of town workers introduced me to o-tsukimi, the tradition of gathering to enjoy the beauty of the full moon. That evening, when we climbed up to the roof of the community gymnasium, was the first of many nature-related viewings I would experience over the next two years in Japan.
Like every event, moon-viewing brought surprises. As I wrote in my memoir, The Same Moon, I was prepared to gaze reverently at what they told me is the best full moon of the year. But the event, as it unfolded, seemed more an excuse to visit. We crowded together on a blue plastic tarp, drank beer and ate our way through a spread of crackers, cookies and sweet dango — soft, powdery, rice flour balls that look like bite-sized full moons.
About those rabbits
In addition to finding that the event involved less gazing, more gabbing, I learned that on the other side of the world we were to look not for the man in the moon but for rabbits. Rabbits? If you look really closely, you can see them, there on the moon, using a giant mallet to pound rice into mochi, for making rice cakes. The next time you look at the full moon, can you see those rabbits? Then — here’s the tricky part — can you un-see them?
My artist friend Andria Villanueva has been creating grocery list/menu-planning pages with monthly themes this year. Her September design highlights the moon and its rabbits, hard-working bunnies pounding mochi, while others watch from the ground, ready to enjoy a pile of sweet dango treats.
On the next page, she captures a bunny hopping through stands of susuki. I remember wading through those tall grasses with my friend Hideo when we embarked on a quest to find the “seven grasses of autumn” at Akiyoshidai, the vast karst plateau in central Yamaguchi prefecture. (Side note: This lovely webpage makes it possible to visit Akiyoshidai anytime!)
If you’d like to print off your own grocery list/meal planner for September, Andria generously agreed to let me share hers here. (Note: The characters running vertically are the days of the week, Sunday through Saturday; the characters running horizontally are each day’s meals — breakfast, lunch and supper.)
By the way, Andria is the artist who created the gorgeous image that graces the cover of my memoir, The Same Moon, and related goods — T-shirts, notebooks, bags and other items.
We don’t need to be in Japan to celebrate o-tsukimi. If the sky is clear — or even if it isn’t! — put some crackers and cookies on a plate, pour a glass of beer or tea, and spread out a blanket in the back yard. Take a few minutes to enjoy the moon and, more than that, to bask in each other’s glow.
(I’d love to see your o-tsukimi! If you feel inspired, share a pic on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #samemoonfriends)
Sometimes you have to run far, far away to find your way home.