While pumpkin patches, apple picking and spiced lattes are the familiar signals of autumn's arrival, let's pause for a moment to celebrate the the harvest moon with a peaceful tea ceremony (especially considering tonight's special super moon appearance). Otsukimi, the Japanese mid-autumn harvest moon-viewing celebration, often takes place in September or October. Nature is in fact a common thread in Japanese steeped celebrations; cherry blossom festival in the spring and autumn harvest in the fall.
Last fall, I bundled myself in warming layers and made my way to Shofuso Japanese House and Garden for a Otsukimi moon-viewing tea ceremony. Crisp air gently whirled through the covered veranda overlooking the garden and pond as twilight glow gave way to the dark night sky. The Otsukimi tea ceremony follows Japanese tradition, in that the host prepares a bowl of matcha for each guest in attendance. The ceremony itself reminds me of a ballet; thoughtfully practiced movements are gracefully threaded together. A small set of customary tea utensils dance about ever so quietly to prepare the bowl of matcha green tea.
Introduced by China in the Nara period (710-794), Otsukimi has been a part of the Japanese culture since the Heian era (794-1185). Traditionally, Japanese aristocratic families would host moon-viewing events aboard boats, as to see the reflection of the moon on the surface of the water.
An offering table is lined with bowls featuring seasonal crops (chestnuts, persimmons, taro), plants and round rice dumplings (known as dango), as an offering to autumn’s full moon in hopes of a plentiful harvest. During such a celebration it was common to host a moon-viewing tea ceremony whether on a boat, out amongst nature, or in a tea house.
Sweet rice dumplings, dango, are similar to the familiar mochi (which Americans know as being filled with ice cream). The rice dumplings are paired with matcha green tea and served during the tea ceremony. Dango is often made with a rice flour exterior and filled with a range of ingredients, such as sweetened red bean paste, eggs, chestnut paste, etc. There are even green tea flavored Dango, referred to as Chadango (“cha” translating to “tea”).
While Americans see the faces of the man in the moon, Japanese folklore notes seeing a rabbit pounding rice flour in a mortar and pestle to make mochi. Inspired by that folklore, Dango is served during the tea ceremony (and also because its round shape and white rice flour coloring give it the appearance of the moon).
As the final moments of the moon-viewing festival came to a close, bowing in appreciation for a truly memorable evening, I took a deep breath of the chilled autumn air wafting in from the garden, now completely awash with darkness. The sense of calm was both grounding and exhilarating, connecting me to the nature that we celebrated. It was as if the moon was my bright balloon pulling me towards the sky, while the presence of the meaningful matcha tea ceremony made me much more mindful of the beauty in the autumn season.