usagi in the Grass
This represents Otsukimi, the Japanese festival that honors the Autumn moon. The celebration of the full harvest moon typically takes place in the Gregorian solar calendar of September or October. Since ancient times the Japanese people have celebrated this time as the best time for looking at the moon, since the relative positions of the earth, sun and moon cause the moon to appear especially bright. On the evening of the full moon, it is traditional to gather in a place where the moon can be seen clearly, decorate the scene with Japanese pampas grass, and serve white rice dumplings (known as Tsukimi dango), taro, edamame, chestnuts and other seasonal foods, plus sake as offerings to the moon in order to pray for an abundant harvest. International Rabbit Day, held on the fourth Saturday or Sunday of September, is an international day that promotes the protection and care of rabbits both domestic and wild.
Similar to the Rabbit in the Grass, Rabbit in the Ayame (Iris) symbolizes purification against evil energies and protecting those who wear it. Ayame also symbolizes loyalty and a noble heart.
Tsuki no Usagi (Moon Rabbit)
A famous folktale in Japan explains why the image of a rabbit pounding mochi is on the moon. According to this legend, one day the Moon spirit decided to visit Earth. Appearing in a forest and disguised as a beggar, the moon spirit came across a fox (Kitsune), Monkey (Saru) and Rabbit (Usagi). The moon spirit was hungry and asked them for some food. Monkey climbed a tree and brought the beggar a persimmon. Fox went to a stream and caught a fish to give to the beggar. But Rabbit had nothing to offer but some grass so he asked the beggar to build a fire. Rabbit jumped into the fire and offered himself as a meal for the beggar. The beggar quickly turned back into the moon spirit and pulled Rabbit out of the fire. So impressed with Rabbit’s generosity the moon spirit said “You are most the generous and unselfish, Rabbit, but don’t do anything to harm yourself. Since you are the kindest and most good hearted I will take you back to the moon to live with me.”
This story is said to have originated from the Buddhist Śaśajâtaka where Śakra is the old man of the moon and the monkey, otter and jackal are the rabbit’s companions. Versions of this tale are popular in many other countries of Asia, and First Nation people in the U.S., Canada and Mexico have stories about the rabbit on the moon as well.