Wednesday 27 September 2017

Japanese Pampas Grass and Moon-watching

Japanese pampus grass or susuki reaching out over a small stream
Japanese pampas grass or susuki
Japanese pampas grass - otherwise called (Chinese) silver grass, zebra grass, or porcupine grass - is found throughout East Asia and is a common sight at this time of year. In Japanese, it is called susuki - not to be confused with the most popular Japanese name Suzuki! - and is written with the kanji 薄 meaning thin or weak (usui =薄い).

In the calendar, it is most commonly associated with jyūgoya (十五夜) or the night of the full moon, that is the night of the 15th day of the 8th lunar month​ in the old calendar (equivalent to October in the modern calendar - October 4th this year). On this day, some people display susuki - said to bring a year's good health - together with dango (rice-dumplings) and engage in "moon watching" (tsuki-mi =月見), the celebration and honouring of the autumn full-moon which goes back centuries. Other seasonal foods such as sweet potatoes (satsuma-imo) and chestnuts (kuri) are also commonly used as an offering to the harvest moon (chūshū no meigetsu = 中秋の名月). See here for more on the history of tsuki-mi and the legend of "The Rabbit in the Moon" (in Japanese folk-lore the markings on the moon's surface are said to resemble a rabbit pounding mochi or rice-cake!). The Japanese attachment to the moon can be seen in the plethora of words available to describe the moon in different aspects and situations, such as u-getsu (rain moon - when the full moon is hidden by clouds). There is also a whole lexicon of gorgeously poetic words to describe the various stages of a waxing and waning moon, such as  nemachi-zuki (literally "moon which appears while you are sleeping" which refers to the waning gibbous moon).