Japan has two moon festivals every year, following lunar calendar. Zyuyoga is associated with the traditional customs of “Otsukimi” (meaning watching the moon on the full moon day in autumn). For the people in the land of the rising sun, the festival is the time for them to honor the moon in the fall, the only time the moon is at its fullest.
In the Otsukimi festival, the Japanese often make Dango, a type of rice dumplings (mochiko). It is quite similar to mochi and is served with tea.
On the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, the Japanese personally hand mix flour with water, pound it to create that structure-builder before proceeds to baking.
Dango cake is presented with a Susuki grass vase during moon festivals. Also known as tail flower, susuki is a perennial tall grass that blossoms in the autumn. The moon watching ritual cannot be done without dango cake.
Dango cake and susuki grass. Photo courtesy of Katorisi on Wikipedia
The legend of Dango cake is traditionally passed on from one generation to the next on the full moon day of the 8th lunar month.
When the Jade Emperor descended from Heaven to Earth, he accidentally encountered a rabbit. The Jade Emperor was too hungry and asked for food, but the rabbit had nothing to give him. The bunny ended up jumping into the fire to become food for the Jade Emperor.
Touched by the generous act, the Jade Emperor brought the animal to the moon. From then on, on every full moon day of the eighth lunar month, the rabbit would make Dango cake on the moon and give to people on Earth.
Moon Festival is not simply a celebration of full moon in South Korea. Chuseok festival, which literally means “Autumn Eve”, is also referred to as Korean Thanksgiving. This is the time when all family members reunite under one roof.
The harvest festival is considered one of the biggest and most important holidays in South Korea. It falls on August 15th in the lunar calenda. Traditionally, the whole family cooks together and enjoys traditional dishes like songpyeon (cresent-shaped rice cake), and sindoju wine (made with new crop rice on Chuseok).
A plate full of songpyeon, the representative Chuseok food. Photo courtesy of Joe McPherson/ZenKimchi
On Chuseok, Koreans mold flours into crescent shapes. Instead of making a round cake that symbolizes full moon, Koreans believe that because crescent always becomes full moon, the shape symbolizes fertility, prosperity and happiness. After the flour is crescent molded, green beans are inserted as stuffing. The final stage involves steaming the dough with some fresh pine leaves.
Korean songpyeon comes with many colors. Apart from the typical white songpyeon, pink rice cakes get their color from strawberry, while dark green cakes from wormwood leaves, and yellow from pumpkin.
According to the legend, single women who can make beautifully shaped and delicious rice cakes will meet a compatible life partner, while married women will be blessed with wonderful offsprings.
The people of the land of golden temples celebrate Moon Festival with a lot of lanterns. They gather in traditional costumes and release the sky lights up in unison, as a way to pray for good wishes.
10,000 lanterns flying in Yee Peng festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo courtesy of CFP
On the moon festival tray of tributes to the ancestors, Thai people always have pomelo fruit, which symbolizes reunion. Most Thai houses traditionally install an altar. Above the altar, a peach and moon cakes are placed.
By offering the peach, Thai people believe that after the Bodhisattva of Compassion receives the peach, the Gods will bless them with good things in life. That is why moon cakes in Thailand are peach-shaped.
Today, one of the most popular moon cakes in the country is the grilled moon cake with durian and salted egg stuffing, signifying the full moon.
North Korean moon festival food. Photo courtesy of Daedong River Club on Naver Blog
Also known as Autumn Night festival, the special occasion for North Koreans is also watching the full moon together. North Korea’s traditional sweet treat is crescent-shaped muffins made of rice flour. The stuffing varies, which can be green beans, jam, or apples. Alike other cultures that celebrate Moon Festival, North Koreans also gift one another moon cakes.
The fillings vary, ranging from jam, cashew nuts, to almond nuts and many more. Photo courtesy of VnExpress/Tran Thu Thuy
Unlike other cultures, Moon Festival in Vietnam is often thought of as a festival for kids. Vietnamese people organize a tray of different goods to pay tribute to the moon. When the moon is at 12 o’clock direction, kids sing and together dig in the tray for delicious treats while watching the full moon. The moon watching ritual is a result of a fictional character’s journey, Cuoi.
One day, a banyan tree was suddenly lifted into the air in Cuoi’s village. He grabbed on its root and tried to pull it back to earth, but to no avail. Cuoi and the banyan tree together flew to the moon. Today, adults tell kids that whenever they look at the moon and see dark areas that are shaped like a big old tree with someone sitting at its foot, that is Cuoi and the banyan tree.
Grilled moon cake and sticky rice moon cake are typical Moon Festival delicacy in Vietnam, which reflects a heavy influence of Chinese moon cakes. They have a round or rectangular shape which embodies sky and earth together – a symbol of affluence and wholeness. Grilled moon cakes have a golden hue, while sticky rice moon cakes have an ivory-like white color – each carries its distinctive flavors.
Homemade moon cakes with bold designs and colours are done with artistic details and on the rise of popularity. Moon Festival to Vietnamese people is also the festival of reunion. It does not matter where everyone is, they are called home by the full moon every year.
In Vietnam, the Moon Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival this year will take place on September 24.
Homemade moon cakes are on the rise of popularity in Vietnam. Photo by VnExpress/Tran Thu Thuy