In The U.S. People See A Man In The Moon, But In Japan They See A?
It’s easy to assume that the way your culture sees something is the way every other culture sees it too. If you’ve grown up in the United States or Western Europe, for example, it would be easy to assume that everyone on Earth sees a man in the patterns on the surface of the moon just like you do.
Interpretations of the crater patterns on the lunar surface are highly regionalized, however, and while nearly everyone in the U.S. refers to the face of the moon as “the man in the moon”, take a long hop across the ocean to Japan (or other countries in the region like China or Korea) and you’ll find the majority of people making references to the “moon rabbit”.
Why a rabbit? In East Asian culture there are several myths that explain how a rabbit ended up on the face of the moon. In Chinese folklore, the rabbit on the moon is pounding herbs with a mortar and pestle to create the elixir of life that sustains the moon goddess Chang’e. In the Japanese and Korean versions of the tale, the rabbit is pounding ingredients for rice cakes. There is also a Buddhist tale found throughout the region that dates back to the fourth century wherein a monkey, an otter, a jackal, and a rabbit decide they will be charitable on the day of the full moon by helping an old beggar. Only the rabbit proves to be truly virtuous and the old man reveals himself to be the Buddhist deity Śakra who rewards the rabbit’s selflessness by imprinting an image of the rabbit upon the face of the moon.
The man in the moon and the rabbit, however, are just the beginning of a long list of images seen in the moon by cultures around the world. In Indian folklore, the crater patterns represent the hands of Astangi Mata, the great mother, touching the cheeks of one of her twin children who she sent into the sky to become the Moon. In New Zealand, according to Maori folklore, the pattern shows a woman (Rona) who was disrespectful to the moon and is now trapped on the moon for all eternity as penance for her behavior. In Hawaiian folklore, the pattern represents a giant banyan tree that is harvested by a woman named Hina to make cloth for the gods. So while you may live in a culture that sees a man in the moon, know that he’s got quite a few friends keeping him company.
Image courtesy of Zeimusu.