Do as the Japanese do, and prepare yourself to admire the most beautiful moon, 中秋の名月, the full moon in mid-autumn.
This text is aimed at advanced beginners and intermediate learners, letting you know more about Japanese culture, at the same time as you learn kanji and new words.
In the text, the pronunciation and translation of words in kanji is hidden, so that you have the chance to practise the vocabulary. If you make a selection over the hidden text, it will appear. All hidden words are also listed in the vocabulary section.
Moon Viewing is an Old Tradition
In the 旧暦 (kyuureki – old calendar), 春 (haru/shun – spring) is January, February and March, 夏 (natsu/ka – summer) is April, May and June, 秋 (aki/shuu- autumn) is July, August and September, and 冬 (fuyu/tou – winter) is October, November and December. Furthermore, the three months of each season have names containing the three words 初 (sho – beginning), 中 (naka – middle) and 晩 (ban – ending). In 秋, for example, July is 初秋 (shoshuu), August is 中秋 (chuushuu) and September is 晩秋 (banshuu). A full moon in August has the special name 中秋の名月（chuushuu no meigetsu – harvest moon in mid-autumn). Even though the moon may not be full that particular night, it is celebrated on the 9th of September, which corresponds to the 15th of August in the old calendar.
You can see a 満月 (mangetsu – full moon) several times in a year as you know, and it’s said that the one in the autumn looks the most beautiful. Maybe it’s because Japanese 秋 has dry and clear air. You might not do anything special on the night of the 9th of September, but still a clear sky and complete 満月 are welcomed. For some reason, you want to confirm how the 月 (tsuki – moon) looks.
- 旧暦 （きゅうれき – kyuureki – old calendar)
- 春 （はる – haru/shun – spring)
- 夏 （なつ – natsu/ka – summer)
- 秋 （あき、シュウ – aki/shuu – autumn)
- 冬 （ふゆ – fuyu/tou – winter)
- 初 （しょ – sho – early, beginning)
- 中 （なか – naka – mid-, middle)
- 晩 （ばん – ban – late, ending)– the primary meaning of this kanji is “evening”, so it’s also used for “endings” of things.
- 初秋 （しょしゅう – shoshuu – July)
- 中秋 （ちゅうしゅう – chuushuu – August)
- 晩秋 （ばんしゅう – banshuu - September)
- 中秋の名月（ちゅうしゅうのめいげつ – chuushuu no meigetsu – harvest moon in mid-autumn)
- 月 （つき – tsuki – moon) (another reading is ゲツ, getsu, which is primarily used in compound words)
- 満月 （まんげつ – mangetsu – full moon)
You might prepare some things for the night. On the table near the window, you arrange すすき (susuki – Japanese pampas grass), and some food like 団子 (dango – dumpling). This is a sticky Japanese sweet made of rice powder, and recently lots of supermarkets have small mountains of 団子 for お月見 (otsukimi – moon viewing). Originally 里芋 （satoimo – taro) was used for お月見, but this seems to have been replaced nowadays by other round food like 団子 and fruits like 梨 (nashi – Japanese pears). You admire the beautiful 月 (tsuki – moon), preferably 満月 of course, and at the same time also the 月 should be able to “see” those things on the table. So, you open the curtain on the night of お月見. If the night is warmer, you can open the window. It’s quite comfortable to feel the soft wind while hearing the singing of autumn’s insects under the 月.
By the way, the 9th of September is one of five Japanese 節句 (sekku – seasonal celebrations). There were lots of 節句 derived from customs in China, but only five 節句 were given official status in 江戸時代 (edojidai – the Edo period), it’s said. The dates of the five 節句 are the 7th of January, the 3rd of March, the 5th of May, the 7th of July and the 9th of September. Originally people used to do some things to drive away bad things like illness during each 節句, like floating hina dolls downstream at the end of Hinamatsuri. But apparently only some of these customs remain.
- すすき (susuki – Japanese pampas grass)
- 団子 （だんご – dango – (sweet) dumpling)
- お月見 （おつきみ – otsukimi – moon viewing)
- 里芋 （さといも – satoimo – taro)
- 梨 （なし – nashi – Japanese pear)
- 節句 （せっく – sekku – seasonal celebration)
- 江戸時代 （えどじだい – Edo period)
Speaking of お月見, there is a story that 月 reminds us of. The story is about a beautiful girl called かぐや姫 (kaguya-hime – Princess Kaguya), and it’s also said this is the first Japanese SF story. Once upon a time, an old couple got a pretty baby girl from a bamboo. They cherished her as their true child, but she grew up impossibly fast, and after avoiding many men who wanted her for a wife, she got back to the moon because she was a moon person. The story is dramatic and sad, and has given inspiration to many people, it seems. The story often has 平安時代 (heian jidai – Heian period) illustrations, so such gorgeous pictures and the mystery of the moon make the story more fascinating, I think.
- かぐや姫 （かぐやひめ – kaguya-hime – Princess Kaguya)
- 平安時代 （へいあんじだい – heian jidai – Heian period),
- 名月 – めいげつ – meigetsu
名月 seems to be translated as “harvest moon”, but when saying 中秋の名月, I think there is a better translation. The kanji 名 can also mean “famous, excellent, great”, not only “name”. So, 中秋の名月 can be “excellent moon in mid-autumn”, I think. The second kanji, 月, can mean month as well as moon, and its pronunciation changes in combinations with other kanji.
- 月 – つき – tsuki – moon, month
- 満月 – まんげつ – mangetsu – full moon
- 月曜日 – げつようび – getsuyoubi – Monday
Each of Japanese month’s name has this kanji also:
- １月 – いちがつ – ichigatsu – January
- ２月 – にがつ – nigatsu – February
- ３月 – さんがつ – sangatsu – March
- ４月 – しがつ – shigatsu – April
- ５月 – ごがつ – gogatsu – May
- ６月 – ろくがつ – rokugatsu – June
- ７月 – しちがつ – shichigatsu – July
- ８月 – はちがつ – hachigatsu – August
- ９月 – くがつ – kugatsu – September
- １０月 – じゅうがつ – juugatsu – October
- １１月 – じゅういちがつ – juuichigatsu – November
- １２月 – じゅうにがつ – juunigatsu – December