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What is Tsukimi? Japan's Moon-Viewing Customs, Rituals & Foods

By Annika Hotta
Updated: July 9, 2024

A summer holiday that often gets overshadowed by the more well-known Tanabata in July and Obon in August, Tsukimi is a moon-viewing holiday that wraps up the summer season each September. 

As the Japanese variant of the mid-Fall festival, Tsukimi is a special holiday involving the consumption of certain foods and numerous festivals you can attend. To learn more about how you can celebrate this holiday, keep reading!

What is Tsukimi?

Tsukimi dango on a red serving plate, sitting on a wooden table with a shoji door and susuka grass in the background.

Tsukimi is the Japanese term for “moon viewing.” It comes from the kanji characters 月, meaning “moon,” and 見, meaning “to watch.” 

You might also see the honorific お being used in front to write “otsukimi.” While the translation is rather simple, the history is slightly more interesting.

The history of Japan’s tsukimi moon-viewing festival

An illustration of Tsukimi, showing two white rabbits in front of a full moon.

Dating back to the Heian period, Tsukimi began as a way of expressing thanks for a bountiful harvest each September. Families came together to observe the full moon, which is said to be larger and more colorful during this time. 

In the modern era, however, you don’t have to be a farmer to celebrate the holiday. Instead, you can think of it as a holiday expressing gratitude for the end of the summer and excitement for the fall season ahead.

And considering how hot summer in Japan is, you’re sure to be thankful that it’s cooling down.

Related article: (B)eat the Heat: 10 Best Japanese Summer Foods

How to celebrate the full moon festival in Japan?

The cultural offerings of Tsukimi, featuring tsukimi mochi and rabbit-shaped mochi.

When the Tsukimi holiday first began, celebrations took the form of traditional dances and poetry recitals at the courts or at shrines and temples. 

These performances continue today, though most families celebrate it in a more domestic fashion. This includes putting out fall flowers like pampas grass and fall foods like Tsukimi dango and chestnuts, specifically near the window where the lunar gods can share the meal. 

Depending on the calendar, Tsukimi falls between mid-September to early October each year, so be sure to check the dates ahead of the celebration.

But, if you want to know what foods are typically made or consumed during the Tsukimi full moon festival, we have a list to help you prepare for the holiday!

8 foods to eat at a tsukimi full moon festival:

  1. Tsukimi dango
  2. Mochi in rabbit shapes
  3. Kuri (chestnuts)
  4. Kabocha (pumpkin)
  5. Kaki (persimmons)
  6. Yaki-imo (Japanese sweet potatoes)
  7. Tsukimi soba and udon
  8. Tsukimi burger at fast food restaurants

1. Tsukimi dango

A serving of Tsukimi dango, with a pile of white mochi and a yellow mochi at the top, representing the moon.

Made in the same way as mitarashi dango (minus the skewers), Tsukimi dango are served plain and piled into a pyramid shape of 15. Some recipes will instruct you to make one out of kabocha to place on top. This dango is meant to represent the full moon. 

2. Mochi in rabbit shapes

Tsukimi rabbit mochi on a wooden serving tray.

Rabbits are a motif of the Tsukimi full moon holiday because Japanese people believe you can see the shape of a rabbit pounding mochi in the craters of the moon. Make your own Tsukimi usagi mochi with the help of food coloring. 

Form the shape of an oval with your mochi, then paint red or pink dots for the eyes and brown or pink ovals for the ears. If you want to go all out, you can actually form the mochi in the shape of a rabbit, though no one will judge you if you stick to the simple oval shape!

3. Kuri (chestnuts)

Chestnuts in a white bowl, surrounded by fall leaves and acorns for decoration.

Laid out as an offering to the mid-fall moon, Japanese chestnuts are a typical snack during the moon-viewing holiday. To take your kuri game to the next level, roast them for an iconic fall treat or make chestnut rice.

4. Kabocha (pumpkin)

Kabocha pumpkin in a white bowl, garnished with sesame seed.

Another classic fall ingredient, kabocha is included in one piece of Tsukimi dango and served as a side dish during this time. For ideas on how to prepare Japanese pumpkin, check out these kabocha dish ideas!

5. Kaki (persimmons)

Kaki persimmon in a wicker basket, nestled into fall foliage.

Unlike the other ingredients mentioned, you don’t have to prepare persimmon in any particular way. Simply lay them out as an offering or consume them as-is. In case you’ve never had a persimmon before, it’s said to have a tangy, sweet taste that’s somewhere between a mango and a sweet pepper, with undertones of cinnamon and honey.

6. Yaki-imo (Japanese sweet potatoes)

Yaki-imo sweet potatoes, baked and steaming on a wicker basket.

Beloved throughout the year, Japanese sweet potatoes are best eaten during the harvest season. Bake them in the form of yaki-imo (Japanese ovens will have a button specifically for this), buy them pre-cooked at the supermarket, or try out a number of different dishes using the savory/sweet potato. 

7. Tsukimi soba and udon

A bowl of Tsukimi udon, featuring noodles in a broth with fish cakes, spring onion and a bright, yellow yolk in the center, representing the moon.

A key component of many Tsukimi dishes is the inclusion of a whole egg — specifically one with a large, vibrant yolk — to represent the full moon. Tsukimi soba and Tsukimi udon are simply that: noodle dishes with a whole egg on top. Either poached or fried, you can enjoy Tsukimi soba chilled or in a hot broth. 

8. Tsukimi burger at fast food restaurants

An ad for the 2023 Wendy's Tsukimi burger, filled with beef, cheese, bacon and egg.

Served in most fast food restaurants across Japan, the Tsukimi burger consists of a burger patty, a slice of cheese, a runny egg (to represent the moon) and bacon. The limited-time Wendy’s burger from 2023 shown above is the perfect example of this!

Have you celebrated Tsukimi before or do you have a favorite Tsukimi-themed food? It’s a great way to experience an authentic element of Japanese culture, and a nice way to end the summer before moving into fall.

Speaking of summer, we can give you a few more ideas of what to do or eat in Japan’s summer season, or the best beer gardens in Japan for soaking up the sun with a cold drink.

Tsukimi moon viewing FAQs

A full moon cycle showed against a black background, from half-full to full.

When is Tsukimi celebrated?

Tsukimi is typically celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month of the traditional Japanese lunar calendar, which usually falls in September or October.

What are some traditional foods eaten during Tsukimi?

Some traditional foods eaten during Tsukimi include Tsukimi dango (rice dumplings), taro, chestnuts and sake. These offerings are often arranged in a way that represents the moon.

What is the significance of Tsukimi?

Tsukimi is a time to give thanks for the harvest and to reflect on the beauty of nature. It is also believed to bring good luck and prosperity to those who participate in the tradition.

How do people celebrate Tsukimi?

During Tsukimi, people gather with friends and family to appreciate the moon. They may have a special meal, decorate their homes with pampas grass and other symbols of fall, and participate in moon-viewing activities.

Are there any special customs or rituals associated with Tsukimi?

One common custom during Tsukimi is to offer rice dumplings and other foods to the moon as a gesture of gratitude. Some people also write wishes on tanzaku (paper strips) and hang them on susuki grass.

Is Tsukimi only celebrated in Japan?

While Tsukimi is most commonly associated with Japan, similar moon-viewing traditions exist in other countries, such as China and Korea. Each culture may have its own unique customs and practices for celebrating the full moon.

We strive to be as accurate as possible and keep up with the changing landscape of Japan's food and travel industries. If you spot any inaccuracies, please send a report.
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Annika Hotta
After studying abroad in Shiga prefecture in 2019, Annika moved to Japan in 2021. In her writing, she highlights the best dishes and places to eat in Japan for both the picky and the adventurous.
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