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Sun and Moon

Cultural Quintessence

Japan In-depth

Kateigaho International Edition

Sun and Moon

Sun and Moon:Celestial Orbs Contend Across the Horizon

no moon-hiding mountains
from grass it rises
into grass it sets

The origin of the name Musashino-zu is a poem from the Nara period (710-794). Today Musashino is a Tokyo suburb, but more than 1,200 years ago, grassy plains spread as wide as the ocean. The moon would rise on the horizon and set below it. With nothing to interrupt one's field of vision, the moon seemed huge and, of course, the sun seemed even bigger. As these two celestial giants proceeded on their heavenly courses, east to west across the horizon, with the moon rising and the sun setting, they confronted each other. The Musashino-zu, a sublime design born of Edoperiod culture, captures such a moment. Since the moon better matches the autumn fields, with their pampas grasses and wildflowers that the Japanese love so much, over time the sun disappeared from the scene, and only the moon remained.
In this magnificent pair of sixpanel folding screens, Sun and Moon over Musashino Plain, the sun, painted in red mixed with gold, and the moon, outlined in snowy white and laid with mica, center in a sky of gold leaf above a ground of verdigris.
Dated to the mid-17th century. Artist unknown. Art Institute of Chicago.

The Waxing and Waning Moon—Shedding Light on Japanese Society

text by Seigo Matsuoka

Japanese festivals tend to be lively, energetic affairs with people bustling about and carrying omikoshi (portable shrines) or blazing torches on their shoulders. All festivals involve sizable contingents of Shinto ritualists as well as the general public. The core participants, among those presiding over the event, engage in a purification ritual that begins the night before the festival, drawing holy water during the night and undergoing a form of initiation that consists of splashing this water on their bodies and taking it into their mouths.
This water is called wakamizu or ochimizu, and since ancient times it has been considered the water of the moon. Why do people perform this ritual? Because water purified by the light of the moon is believed to have the power to regenerate or revive. The waka is the waka of wakagaeru, meaning "to be rejuvenated."
The moon waxes and wanes, and harbors the power to regulate the tides. This power involves a rhythm that differs from that of the sun; it is a reflective and collaborative rhythm. Through the centuries, people have believed it to be intimately connected with the rhythms of the female body. In the history of the Japanese, who made virtually no progress in the rational sciences until the 18th century, such phenomena served to forge a close connection between the moon and water.
The gravitational pull of the moon cannot be seen, but for this very reason, a special symbolic quality is attributed to the moon. Across Japan, a ritual survives that demonstrates the importance that this figurative power held in earlier times. It involves a contest of tug-of-war on a night of the full moon, pitting young men of neighboring villages against each other in a test of strength to determine who will have good or bad fortune in the coming year, in a perfect symbol of the invisible gravitational pull of the moon.
Thus, contrary to what one might expect, the power of the moon in Japan extended into everyday life precisely because of its invisibility. A typical example of this is the status of the moon deity in Japanese mythology.
At the center of Japanese mythology are the three heavenly siblings, Amaterasu, Tsukiyomi, and Susano-o. The sun goddess Amaterasu and the god of storms Susano-o have the most prominence. Tsukiyomi, the moon god, hardly appears at all. Even so, since early times the Japanese have sensed the invisible power of the moon, and have paid careful attention to the rhythms of the lunar cycle. They never needed a myth to explain the moon's influence on their world because the moon was constantly with them in the everyday rhythms of night and day.
Another reason is that until the mid-19th century Japan followed the lunar calendar, meaning most events in the lives of the Japanese, from farming to domestic rituals, depended on the phases of the moon. Lunar rhythms were the rhythms of society. This made the moon less one of the family of gods enshrined in the Japanese pantheon, and more an entity familiar to society and a part of life, an acceptable element to consider in everyday tools, implements, and apparel.
Thus, it is logical that the moon is a common motif in Japanese arts and crafts.

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