Tonight in Japan, it is Tsukimi! This is the moon viewing festival, when people celebrate the harvest, and the moon is considered to be at its most beautiful.
Tsukimi takes its origins from the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, which is a major event in the Chinese lunar year. Tsukimi and the Mid-Autumn Festival are both held on the fifteenth day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar, but while in China and many other Asian countries it is a major holiday, in Japan Tsukimi is a bit more of a laid back affair. Although some people will take the opportunity to gather with family and friends to go moon-viewing, most people will try to remember to catch a glimpse of the moon in the evening, but will otherwise largely continue their business as usual.
There is one area in which Japan is very invested in Tsukimi though, and that is food. In Japan, Tsukimi is traditionally celebrated by eating mochi-based treats, especially Tsukimi dango, plain white balls of mochi which are thought to resemble the full moon. However, for quite some time, Japan has been getting a lot more inventive with their Tsukimi treats, branching out a long way from the traditional mochi confections, and this year I decided to take a culinary foray into a few of the alternative options.
The most well-known of the alternative Tsukimi foods, at least in Japan, is probably McDonald’s Tsukimi burgers. First introduced in 1991, the Tsukimi burger is released every year sometime in early September, and then sold up until the day of Tsukimi. It consists of a burger patty, a fried egg — thought to resemble the full moon — a slice of bacon and a special tomato cream sauce. It also comes in cheeseburger and breakfast sandwich form. This year there is also a special version that comes with sukiyaki beef, which is pretty good, but I still miss the year that it included cheese flavored buns and fluffy scrambled eggs. Ah well… During this period, McDonald’s also changes its packaging, decorating it with rabbits watching the moon, due to the Japanese legend of mochi-making rabbits who live on the moon.
Starting a few years ago, McDonald’s also added another regular Tsukimi item to their menu, the Tsukimi pie. This is a McDonald’s pie, but instead of the standard apple, it contains mochi and red bean paste. As much as I love the Tsukimi burger, this is my favourite part of the McDonald’s Tsukimi menu, hands down, and I look forward to it every year.
This year, in order to try something new, I also raided my local 7-11 to see what their idea of a western twist on Tsukimi desserts were, and I was rewarded with a roll cake with cream and custard. In this case, the round custard centre represents the delicious full moon. 7-11’s desserts are always nice and I think that custard is a good addition to almost anything, so I enjoyed this a lot, although the amount of custard was pretty small, but nothing’s perfect in this world I suppose.
The fourth Tsukimi snack I partook of this year is another personal favourite — yukimi daifuku! Yukimi daifuku is already perfect for Tsukimi due to its name, which is a play on the name of Tsukimi daifuku, the traditional Tsukimi treat. Yukimi daifuku is a ball of ice cream wrapped in mochi, which comes in various flavours throughout the year. The Tsukimi version is plain vanilla, the same as standard yukimi daifuku, but it comes in special packaging with the moon rabbit on it, and the mochi is coloured yellow to make it look more like the full moon. As it is a combination of mochi and ice cream, two excellent things, it is of course delicious.
Tonight is Tsukimi, so from tomorrow most of these delicious treats will disappear from the shelves, to be replaced with their successors — Halloween treats! I’m looking forward to the influx of delicious pumpkin flavored things too, but I’ll be sad to see the various moon-shaped things go. If you’ve got the time tonight and the weather is good, see if you can do what a multitude of Japanese people are doing; not really taking too much time out of their day, but maybe on the way home from work, or just before bed, taking a few minutes to enjoy looking up at the moon. If I can, I will be too.