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YumeTwins Kawaii Culture BlogRabbit on the Moon: Japanese Folklore! 

Rabbit on the Moon: Japanese Folklore! 

By Jamila Brown
August 18, 2023
A vector illustration showring the rabbit on the moon.

You might be familiar with the name Usagi Tsukino as the name of the main character Sailor Moon. However, did you know her name is deeply rooted in traditional Japanese folklore? It has a whimsical connection to the rabbit on the moon.

As September rolls around, the Mid-Autumn festival begins, where people gather to give thanks and recount tales about this selfless bunny. Let’s read more about this traditional story and how rabbits are essential to Japanese culture today.

What’s the story of the rabbit on the moon?

Once upon a time, the Moon God came down to Earth as a man. As he traveled the Earth, he soon became hungry and tired and settled in the forest for the night. While in the forest, he met a fox, a monkey, and a rabbit and asked them for food. The monkey climbed a tree and bought the man some fruit. The fox went to the river and bought the man some fish. 

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

The rabbit, however, was unable to climb or swim. So instead, the man asked the monkey and the fox to help build a fire. After the animals built the fire, the rabbit turned to the older man and offered himself up as food. Feeling moved by the rabbit, the man revealed himself as the Moon God and stopped the rabbit from jumping into the fire. 

Instead, he rewarded the rabbit’s selflessness by taking the rabbit to live on the moon with him. Now if you look up at the full moon, you can see the outline of a rabbit pounding mochi on the moon. 

How do people celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival?

Fast forward to modern times, September now kicks off the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as otsukimi in Japan. The name translates to moon (tsuki) viewing (mi), and thus people gather with their loved ones to look at the moon. But this isn’t just any moon people are looking at. 

An illustration of a person enjoying the moon during tsukimi season.
People enjoy tsukimi season! Image via Pinterest

People are looking at the full moon in September, the brightest and most beautiful moon of the year! Aside from looking at the full moon, people decorate their homes with rabbit motifs and suzuki Japanese pampas grass to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune into their homes. During the full moon, people also enjoy eating traditional snacks like rice cakes and yummy white rice dumplings called tsukimi dango.  

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What do rabbits represent?

In traditional Japanese culture, rabbits represent good luck and benevolence. These charming creatures hold a particular sort of significance in the country. The island off of Hiroshima, Okunoshima, is considered a bunny paradise for rabbit lovers. It is known as the “home of 1,000 rabbits” due to the many rabbits freely frolicking on the island. 

A bunch of rabbits on Okunoshima Island.
Okunoshima is also known as the r”rabbit island”. Image via Shutterstock

People often visit the island not only to play with the rabbits but also to help bring good fortune to their families. There are also various temples and shrines in Japan dedicated to rabbits. Okazaki Jinja in Kyoto and Tsuki Jinja in Saitama are two of the most famous rabbit shrines in the country. The numerous temple rabbit statues make them a fun visit for bunny lovers. 

How did rabbits influence Japanese pop culture? 

The magic of rabbits transcends traditional folktales and has made its way into modern Japanese pop culture. Some of the most beloved characters in anime, manga, and games are often associated with bunny-like characteristics.

Aside from their apparent cuteness, rabbit personalities have highly sought-after qualities. Their cute fluffy appearance represents comfort and companionship, while their speed and agility show they can quickly overcome any challenge. 

An anime couple in space near a beautiful moon.
The moon has a significant influence on anime. Image via Shutterstock

Rabbit-like characters are selfless and do anything to make their friends and family happy. Iconic Sanrio characters such as My Melody and Kuromi are two of the cutest rabbit characters in anime. Other notable characters include Momiji from Fruits Basket, Carrot from One Piece, and Rumi Usagiyama from My Hero Academia.

Have you enjoyed learning about the rabbit on the moon? When the full moon arrives in September, why don’t you take a look up and try to find the rabbit outline up there? Take a moment to recount the tale of the rabbit on the moon and bring some good luck into your life. 

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Jamila Brown

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