The end of September brings a special occasion in Japan: Jyugoya. Also called tsukimi, which means “viewing the moon,” the autumn moon festival has roots in the Heian period, when it’s thought to have been adopted from the Chinese. Jyugoya happens on the fifteenth day of the eighth solar month, which corresponds to late September on the modern calendar. Due to the moon’s position relative to other stars, people thought this was the best time to view the moon.
The contemporary Japanese lunar celebration involves staking out a good spot to watch the moon whether on land or on water, where the moon’s reflection will be visible. Interestingly, though, people always hold tsukimi parties, even when the moon is not visible. The Japanese language has specific terms to denote occasions when the moon is not visible on the traditional evening: Mugetsu (“no moon”) and Ugetsu (“rain moon”). In any case, participants decorate with pampas grass and other offerings.
In addition to the typical celebratory foods in Japan, such as sushi and sake, Jyugoya dishes (tsukimi ryōri) include tsukimi dango, mochi balls essentially translate to moon-viewing dumplings. People serve the small white balls, which resemble the moon as offerings to the moon during tsukimi.
Seasonal foods like sanma (Pacific saury), Japanese pear, chestnuts, edamame and taro are also very common. The prevalence of satsumaimo (Japanese sweet potato) has yielded yet another name for the holiday in some parts of Japan: imo meigetsu, or “potato-harvest moon.” Around this time, some fast food restaurants in Japan have been known to feature special, albeit non-traditional, eats like tsukimi burgers with fried eggs resembling the moon.
Keiro No Hi
The third Monday of September is another special occasion in Japan. Keiro No Hi is a day to pay your respects to the elderly. Grandchildren spend time with their grandparents, although the day is not only for the families; it extends to supporting all the older people in the community.
Unlike many Japanese holidays, which have ancient origins in folklore or the turning of the seasons, this one has a more unusual backstory. Supposedly, a Hyōgo Prefecture town now known as Taka proclaimed September 15th Toshiyori no Hi, or Old Folks’ Day, back in 1947. Eventually, the custom become universal throughout Japan, and by 1966 it became a full-blown national public holiday. In 2003, the government switched this holiday to a Monday. It was part of a new system to give workers more three-day weekends.
Keiro No Hi Food
Gifts given on this holiday often include food so the giver can eat with the recipient. Sometimes, volunteers will distribute free bento box lunches to the neighborhood’s elderly residents. In smaller villages, youth might perform shows known as keirokai , after which the older attendees are treated to lunch, tea and dessert.