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YumeTwins Kawaii Culture BlogMoon Magic Time: Japanese Pop Culture Inspired by the Moon!

Moon Magic Time: Japanese Pop Culture Inspired by the Moon!

By Thalia Harris
May 24, 2024
Crescent moon magic against a dark, starry sky.

Whether it’s characters transforming and gaining abilities from the moon’s energy, celestial guardians protecting the moon realm, or mythical tales about the moon, the moon’s wonder and mystery have uniquely inspired the Japanese imagination for centuries! Let’s look at how moon magic has inspired Japanese pop culture!

What is the legend of the moon rabbit?

In Japanese folklore, the legend of the moon rabbit (called tsuki no usagi) is a viral and famous story. The image of a rabbit pounding mochi (a sticky rice treat) on the moon’s surface is significant in Japanese culture and traditions. 

While the moon rabbit myth originally came from ancient Chinese folklore, it became extra special in Japan. One Japanese version says the rabbit was once a humble bamboo cutter who selflessly jumped into a fire to cook himself as food for a homeless monk.

A wistful illustration of a rabbit on the moon.
The Rabbit on the Moon is a tale of selflessness. Image via PNG Tree

A Buddhist deity saw this noble sacrifice and put the rabbit’s image on the moon as a reward. Another version says the rabbit pounds mochi for the moon palace, making food for the moon princess who rules the lunar realm. This connects to Japan’s traditions of celebrating and viewing the moon.

The tsuki no usagi is very important in Japanese culture. It’s a popular symbol in Japanese art, including woodblock prints, ceramics, kimono designs, and more, dating back hundreds of years. Pictures of the rabbit with a mortar and pestle for pounding mochi have become iconic symbols representing Japan.

A vector illustration showing rabbits and the moon.
It’s one of the most famous Japanese legends. Image via Shutterstock

The rabbit represents good qualities like hard work, resourcefulness, and devotion. Today, the tsuki no usagi is still a beloved character in Japanese children’s stories, anime, video games, and pop culture. It has become one of Japan’s most famous and recognizable cultural symbols inspired by ancient folklore.

What are the rabbit temples of Japan?

Japan has many shrines and temples closely connected to rabbits and rabbit folklore, derived from ancient myths and cultural symbols. One of the most famous examples is the Okazaki Shrine (or the Usagi-jinja) in Kyoto. Instead of the typical lion-dog statues, stone rabbit statues guard the entrance. 

A concrete rabbit statue at Hakuto Shrine.
Hakuto Shrine honors a god called the White Rabbit of Inaba. Image via Shutterstock

The shrine grounds also have many rabbit decorations, such as lanterns and charms, plus a black rabbit statue that people believe can help with fertility if you rub its belly. Rabbits symbolize prosperity and easy childbirth at this shrine dedicated to marriage deities.

Some other major “rabbit temples” include Tsuki Shrine in Saitama, which gets its name from the word for “moon” and connects to folklore about a rabbit on the moon’s surface. Hakuto Shrine in Tottori honors the “Hare of Inaba” folktale by having the approach lined with rabbit statues.

A rabbit-themed ema (small woodblock square) at Tsuki Shrine, one of many Japanese temples.
You can write your deepest wishes on these rabbit woodblocks! Image via Shutterstock

Miwa Shrine has a stone rabbit statue that people pet for good luck. Meigetsuin Temple has rabbit statues relating to “rabbit on the moon” tales alongside its famous hydrangea gardens. Amazingly, even the ancient Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine has clusters of rabbit statues connected to deities and myths like the “White Hare of Inaba” story.

So, these sacred temples and shrine sites across Japan feature lots of bunny imagery and rabbit statues. This connects to cultural beliefs about fertility, good fortune, and ancient folklore about rabbits that have lasted centuries.

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What is dango?

Dango are Japanese dumplings made from mochiko (rice flour). They have a sticky, chewy texture similar to mochi. One of the most traditional varieties is the tsukimi dango, plain white dumplings eaten during the tsukimi festival – the annual moon-viewing celebration in mid-autumn.

A bowl of cute panda dango soup.
They look amazing in a soup! Image via Shutterstock

Tsukimi dango are round, white rice dumplings symbolizing the full autumn moon. They’re made by mixing mochiko flour and water into dough, then shaped into balls and boiled. The dumplings are left white, without additional flavors or coatings.

During tsukimi, people place 15 dango in a pyramid: nine on the bottom, four in the middle, and two on top. This arrangement represents the full moon and celebrates the autumn harvest. The dango can be plain or served with a sweet soy glaze called mitarashi.

A plate of green yomogi dango.
Yomogi dango uses mugwort. Image via Shutterstock

While simple in appearance, tsukimi dango holds great cultural significance in Japan. Not to mention, they are an integral part of the centuries-old tsukimi tradition of moon viewing and celebrating the beauty of the harvest moon. The white dumplings symbolize the moon’s bright glow, making them a beloved autumnal treat.

Who are some famous characters inspired by moon magic?

Absolutely! First up is Usagi Tsukino, also known as the legendary Sailor Moon. Usagi gets her excellent abilities from the moon’s celestial energy, allowing her to transform into the guardian of love and justice called Sailor Moon.

Sailor Moon, sitting in the stars, as one of many anime moon characters.
Sailor Moon is one of the world’s most famous anime magical girls. Image via Rare Gallery

Her signature moves, like “Moon Tiara Action” and “Moon Spiral Heart Attack,” use the moon’s glowing force. Usagi’s name even means “rabbit of the moon,” which comes from the old folktale about a rabbit living on the moon’s surface.

Another excellent moon character is Yue from the popular anime Cardcaptor Sakura. Yue is the powerful guardian of the moon, and his proper magical form emerged under the full moon’s beautiful glow. He also represents the moon’s mystical powers, working with Cerberus, the fiery sun guardian. When there’s a full moon, Yue gets a tremendous power boost, making the show’s magic even more exciting.

Yue, from Cardcaptor Sakura a white haired man, one of many anime moon characters.
Yue is the Guardian of the Clow Cards. Image via Wallpapers

More recently, the anime One Piece introduced Carrot, a fun rabbit character from the Warrior Beast Tribe. As part of this unique tribe, Carrot undergoes an electrifying transformation called “Sulong” when the full moon’s light shines on her. This primal power-up makes her much stronger in battle and lets her use electrified gauntlets that look like powerful rabbit paws. Ancient legends about rabbits on the moon inspire Carrot’s whole story.

Why is moon magic such a huge part of Japanese pop culture?

Moon magic and symbols are a huge part of Japanese pop culture because they connect to ancient Japanese folktales, myths, and traditions. Many famous Japanese stories, like the legend of the moon rabbit pounding mochi, have the moon as the primary focus. 

An anime couple in space near a beautiful moon.
How do you think moon magic has influenced Japanese pop culture? Image via Shutterstock

Ancient stories have inspired much art, characters, and modern anime and manga stories. Moon magic plays a significant role in Japanese pop culture. It connects to Japan’s old folklore, spiritual beliefs, and cultural festivals. Modern media continue these moon traditions with new stories.

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Author avatar
Thalia Harris

Writer living in Tokyo who likes stories, music and video games. <3

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