Teaching in Japan

Celebrate Fall and Japanese Culture With This Simple Otsukimi Craft

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Curious about Otsukimi in Japan? Here’s how and your little one can celebrate fall and Japanese culture with this simple Otsukimi craft.

I got lots of inquiries after putting this craft on my IG Story. I made this fall craft for my 4 year old kindergarten class, but with a quick substitution of materials this craft can be tailored to younger or older kids.

This craft is also suitable as an activity on East Asian cultures as the Mid Autumn Festival (Chuushuusetsu | 中秋節) is an auspicious event celebrating the end of the autumn harvest. The festivities include  moon cakes, dragon and lion dances, and brightly colored lanterns which are more associated with Vietnam and China.

Mid Autumn Festival, Juugoya, and Otsukimi in Japan

In Japan, the Mid Autumn Festival it’s also known as Juugoya (十五夜), “the fifteenth night,” in reference to the date in which the full moon appears autumn sky.

The 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar falls somewhere between September to October. This year it’s September 13, which feels very very early! But fall is my favorite season (and the best time to visit Japan IMO) so I welcome any sign of cooler temperatures and savory foods.

In the evening, family and friends gather (or used to) and have kangetsu-kai (観月会 | moon viewing party) where they gaze upon the autumn full moon, a practice called Otsukimi (お月見).

Instead of lanterns, pampas grass (芒 | sususki) are used as decorations. Round rice cakes (団子 | dango) are placed on a sanpo (三方), a dish used in Buddhist temples and altars for food offerings.

 

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Bunnies Everywhere

You’ll see a lot of adorable bunny dumplings and sweets around this time of the year. The bunny, by the way, lives on the moon according to Asian folklore. (But I’m sure all the Sailor Moon fans out there already knew!)

According to the story, an old man asked a rabbit, fox, and monkey for food. While the fox and monkey provided the man with food, the rabbit could not and instead offered himself.

The old man then revealed that he was a god and rewarded the rabbit with his portrait etched on the moon, for all to know the story of his selflessness.

Another spin on the “bunny on the moon” is the Japanese children’s book Otsukimi Obake by Keiko Sena. Two of her classic characters, Obake (ghost) and Usagi chan (little miss bunny) have their own otsukimi adventure. Obake befriends a lost Usagi chan in the woods and they do otsukimi together.

Celebrate Fall and Japanese Culture With This Simple Otsukimi Craft

This craft took me a total of 10 minutes, from the initial sketch to completing the sample. I will do this craft on Friday, but I estimate that it will take my entire class 25-30 minutes to complete, including the origami bunny.

Materials

Black construction paper*
Brown construction paper (or paper bag)
Cotton balls
Origami paper
Yellow paint
Glue
Markers

*In Japan you can buy construction paper (画用紙 | gayoushi) at Costco, 100 yen shops or Amazon. At school we order construction paper and other crafting items through ASKUL.

Preparation

Make an origami bunny (I used these directions)

Set aside 6 evenly sized cotton ball dango

Cut a sanpo from brown paper. For reference it looks like this:

 

Directions

Glue sanpo to the bottom center of the black paper.

Add a generous amount of glue to paper and attach dango in a 3-2-1 triangle formation

To finish, finger to paint a full moon with yellow paint.

Variations

  • Finger paint dango with younger kids (Teacher tip: add a few drops of dish soap to the paint for easy clean up!)
  • Have older kids fold an origami rabbit
  • Those who are able to use scissors can cut a paper moon, bunny, and sanpo
  • Go on a pampas grass hunt and add a few stalks to the finished product.

I’ll be adding more craft ideas for kindergarten teachers- stay tuned!

Celebrate Fall and Japanese Culture With This Simple Otsukimi Craft

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