Tsukimi, an event of truly lunar proportions, was for many of the guests, a first chance to experience food and festivities associated with the Japanese act of moon viewing. Taking place during the full moon of September/October the other guests and myself- an assorted group of characters- were first led to a Japanese community hall. Boxed lunch by HannariHere we sat in a large tatami room accompanied by the sound of trickling water from a fountain in the garden as we curiously but gleefully ate our way through the complimentary traditional Japanese lunchboxes complete with beautiful sushi made from local fish to the north of the city.

At the end of the room were offerings to the moon: sake (Japanese rice wine), Dango (Japanese dumplings made from rice) and chestnuts were all a plenty as we were invited to paint our very own lanterns. With the guidance of a calligrapher, the range of designs created were varied and although I stuck to the simple act of signing my name in Japanese, my fellow guests set theirs alight with colourful images of swirling patterns and cherry blossoms. Some even attempted to write their names in Japanese too!

After a group photograph of the lanterns, they were successively lit as we set off on our tour to the river in Demachiyanagi under the watchful eye of the moon. On a cool night such as it was, our troop walked with lanterns in hand pausing every now and then in awe of the full moon as it pulled itself clear of the cloudy night sky. Every moment of clear moonlight was greeted with a gasp as we made our way around the grounds of the Kyoto Gosho- the former imperial palace of the Emperor. By day, the palace and its grounds- built in the 8th Century- are usually teeming with tourists but as the night had fallen, the grounds were eerily calm aside from the sound of stomping feet on gravel. Here, I couldn't help but quietly revel in the history of this enchanting place.

Appearing like a line of fireflies, our group walked around the palace grounds chatting merrily whilst stopping for obligatory photographs. Then from the palace our troop continued northeast along the city's streets, although some more wearily than others. I for one was beginning to hear the cries of my tiring feet but curiosity and the thought of reaching our journey's finale gave me good reason to keep going.

Upon reaching the river, we lined up our lanterns along the riverbank, as sake was served in small shallow but wide lacquered cups. All around the river too, were various groups of people having barbecues and drinks, quite clearly enjoying the same company of our heavenly host. By the time the moon came out in full, my cheeks were getting rosy but the atmosphere was merry and conversation between new friends flowed as freely as the sake.

Finally, the last train home began to weigh heavily in the mind as our party subsided and departed. Before a final swig of sake, I was astonished as I looked down to see the moon reflected in the bottom of my lacquered cup: an offering from the heavens perhaps.

Doshisha University preservation house
Offerings to the moon
Sakaimachi gomon of Kyoto Gosho
Kamogawa Park
Reported by Gary McLeod

TODAY's ROUTE

Subway
Marutamachi Stn.
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Doshisha University's preservation house
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Kyoto Imperial Park
*Sakaimachi gomon
*Teramachi gomon
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Nashinoki Shrine
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Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine
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Kamogawa Park
map

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