wafuku – noun: traditional Japanese clothing
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The Japanese Moon Rabbit
Tsukiyo no Usagi; the rabbit in the moon. The Moon rabbit in Japanese folklore is a rabbit that lives on the moon, based on pareidolia (the phenomenon of seeing images that seem significant, like clouds in the shape of objects, faces in foodstuffs etc) that identifies the markings of the moon as a rabbit (sometimes said to be a hare). The story exists in many cultures, particularly in East Asian folklore, where the rabbit is seen pounding in a mortar and pestle. In Japanese versions it is pounding the ingredients for mochi (rice cake/dumplings).
In the Japanese anthology, Konjaku Monogatarishu (lit. Anthology of Tales from the Past; a Japanese collection of over one thousand tales written during the late Heian period of 794-1185), a long, long time ago in a far distant land there lived a rabbit, a fox and a monkey who believed that they had sinned in their former lives. Thus, as punishment, they are reincarnated as animals. Determined to compensate for their former sins, they gathered one day and promised to each other to be good and love each other as brothers.
From heaven, Taishakuten, a deity in the Land of Gods, looked upon them in disbelief. “Impossible! The present world is filled with hatred! Even siblings will go as far as to hate, rob or even kill each other. These humans have no compassion and regret anymore, you are telling me that you ANIMALS have it?” he thought to himself. As a test of their true faith, Taishakuten transformed himself into a weak, old man, and descended to the sinful world where the three animals lived. He laid himself down on a path, pretending to be in severe sickness, great pain and nearing death.
Soon enough the three animals passed by this seemingly dying old man. “Salvation… please, help this old man. I have an unfinished journey in front of me, but I have been overcome by hunger and thirst… Anyone, anything, please offer this old man his salvation…” He begged to the three animals in a frail voice.
Seeing this as the perfect chance to prove their determination to be good, the monkey ran off into the forest and brought back fruits and vegetables; the fox went to the graveyard and brought back offerings to the dead that people have left behind; rice cakes, fish, beverages and such.
Being small and weak and used only to collecting grass for food, the rabbit was not able to find anything to save the dying man. In great shame, he went back to the old man. “I am so sorry but I have not yet found anything; I will search elsewhere. Please make a fire and await my return”, the rabbit requested.
Standing by the old man, the smug fox and monkey were getting impatient, “The rabbit brought back nothing and now he tells us to make a fire and wait for him? Useless!” exclaimed the fox and the monkey in disgust. Moments later the rabbit returned, still with nothing. He stared into the fire, then jumped into its flames, making himself food for the old man.
Taishakuten, was so very impressed and touched by such a self-sacrificing act that he proclaimed that the rabbit would be ascended to the moon, so that humans will remember the rabbit and his selfless act forever.
In Japanese art it is sometimes depicted as two rabbits on the moon.
The night of the 15th of September, or ‘Jugo-ya’ (Fifteenth night), is a time when the Japanese go out and appreciate the beauty of the mid-autumn full moon. Such activity is known as ‘O-tsuki-mi’ (moon viewing). ‘Mochi’ (rice dumplings), watermelons, chestnuts and numerous autumn fruits are offered to the bright, full moon. Such offerings are arranged on small, decorative stands and are placed near the windows of Japanese homes.
Rabbits are a popular motif on Japanese fans and textiles and all sorts of other items, like in the images of a Japanese textile and tabi shown above. Examples of rabbits depicted in Japanese antiques are this fabulous netsuke…
On a change of topic, I discovered this extremely expensive wallpaper the other day. I wouldn’t want it on my walls but it was interesting to see.
Recently I saw this lovely furisode kimono in a Paris Vogue from Novemeber 2010…