Things Japanese/Sun, Moon, and Stars
Sun, Moon, and Stars. In the early Japanese mythology the sun is ruled over by a goddess, the glorious Ama-terasu, or "Heaven-Shiner," from whom is descended the Imperial family of Japan. The moon belongs to her brother, the rough and violent god Susa-no-o. According to the later Japanese poets, there grows in the moon a cassia-tree (katsura), whose reddening leaves cause its brighter refulgence in autumn. They also tell us of a great city in the moon (tsuki no miyako), and the myth-makers have brought down a maiden from the moon to do penance on earth amid various picturesque scenes. But the genuinely popular imagination of the present day allows only of a hare in the moon, which keeps pounding away at rice in a mortar to make into cakes. The idea of the hare was borrowed from China; but the rice-cakes seem to be native, and to have their origin in a pun,—the same word mochi happening to have the two acceptations of "rice-cake" and "full moon." The sun is supposed to be inhabited by a three-legged crow,—also a Chinese notion. Hence the expression kin-u gyoku-to, "the golden crow and the jewelled hare," is a periphrasis for the sun and moon.
Far more important than the sun to esthetic persons is the moon. Of all subjects, this is the one on which Japanese poets and romance-writers most constantly dwell, one of them emphatically asserting that "all griefs can be assuaged by gazing at the moon." People still worship the crescent, each time it is first seen; but the greatest nights of the lunar year are the 26th of the 7th moon, the 15th of the 8th moon, and the 13th of the 9th moon, Old Calendar, which roughly correspond to dates some five or six weeks later according to our calendar, and thus include the three moons of the autumn trimester. On the 26th night of the 7th moon, people in Tōkyō visit the tea-houses at Atagoyama or those on the sea-shore of Takanawa, and sit up till a very late, or rather early, hour to see the moon rise over the water, drinking sake the while, and composing verses appropriate to the sentimental character of the scene. The 15th night of the 8th moon, which is no other than our harvest-moon at the full, is celebrated by an offering of beans and dumplings and of bouquets of eulalia-grass and lespedeza blossom. This moon is termed the "bean moon." The 13th night of the 9th moon sees offerings of the same bouquets, of dumplings, and of chestnuts. It is termed the "chestnut moon."
The stars are much less admired and written about in Japan than in Europe. No Japanese bard has ever apostrophised them as "the poetry of heaven." The only fable worth mentioning here in connection with the stars is that which inspires the festival named Tanabata. This fable, which is of Chinese origin, relates the loves of a Herdsman and a Weaving-girl. The Herdsman is a star in Aquila, the Weaver is the star Vega. They dwell on opposite sides of the "Celestial River," or Milky Way, and may never meet but on the 7th night of the 7th moon, a night held sacred to them, strips of paper with poetic effusions in their honour being stuck on stems of bamboo grass and set up in various places. According to one version of the legend, the Weaving-girl was so constantly kept employed in making garments for the offspring of the Emperor of Heaven—in other words, God—that she had no leisure to attend to the adornment of her person. At last, however, God, taking compassion on her loneliness, gave her in marriage to the Herdsman who dwelt on the opposite bank of the river. Hereupon the woman began to grow remiss in her work. God, in his anger, then made her recross the river, at the same time forbidding her husband to visit her oftener than once a year. Another version represents the pair as mortals, who were wedded at the early ages of fifteen and twelve, and who died at the ages of a hundred and three and ninety-nine respectively. After death, their spirits flew up to the sky, where the Supreme Deity bathed daily in the Celestial River. No mortals might pollute it by their touch, except on the 7th day of the 7th moon, when the Deity, instead of bathing, went to listen to the chanting of the Buddhist scriptures.