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Now reading The Bright Side of the Moon

The Bright Side of the Moon

A few woodblock prints from Tsukioka Yoshitoshi’s “One Hundred Aspects of the Moon.”

Last Sunday, September 27, the much-talked-about in-tandem supermoon, lunar Eclipse, and harvest moon graced the night sky. NASA called it the “supermoon lunar eclipse,” “super blood moon,” “total eclipse of the harvest moon,” “supermoon eclipse”—take your pick. It’s something that’s only happened six times since 1900. If you missed it, you won’t have another chance until 2033.

To keep the celebration going, we’re presenting a few Ukiyo-e woodblock prints from “One Hundred Aspects of the Moon,” a series by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839–1892). The style of woodblock printing called Ukiyo-e translates to “pictures of the floating world.” Ukiyo-e prints are handmade: the artist employs multiple woodblocks to create different areas of color, along with detailed linework and calligraphic brushstrokes. Yoshitoshi, who was active during both the Edo Period and the Meiji Restoration, might have witnessed thirty-five regular total lunar eclipses in his lifetime. The moon is a ubiquitous presence in these elegant, colorful prints depicting Japanese and Chinese history and legend.

A Buddhist Monk Receives Cassia Seeds on a Moonlit Night

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A Buddhist monk holds a bowl up to the moon to catch seeds falling from one of the magical cassia trees. Drinking tea made from these bitter seeds was rumored to offer immortality as well as special powers of invisibility. On Earth, cassia-seed tea is cultivated commercially in Southeast Asia and is used in Chinese medicine to assist with vision problems, hypertension, and constipation.

The Moon of the Milky Way

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Two lovers cross the Milky Way to meet each other in this story of the Weaver Maiden and the Herdsboy. Japan’s Tanabata Festival is based on this Chinese tale. Traditional Tanabata Festival foods include yakitori (charcoal-grilled skewered foods), taroyaki (octopus balls), yakisoba (buckwheat noodles tossed with other savory ingredients, pan-fried), and okonomiyaki (savory pancakes with sauce). 

The Bon Festival Moon 

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The Bon Festival is a celebration honoring the spirits of one’s ancestors, called Obon (お盆) or Bon (盆), a Buddhist-Confucian custom that dates back over five hundred years. An important part of the celebrations is the ritual dance, “Bon-Odori.” The celebration foods at Bon Festivals include oban-yaki (sweet azuki bean pastry), futomaki (large, fat rolls of sushi with nori on outside), chirashi sushi (sushi atop of rice), inari sushi (deep-fried sushi rice wrapped in tofu skin), furankufuruto (Japanese-style skewered grilled frankfurters), grilled corn (on the cob with teriyaki glaze or furikake), curry rice (curry sauce over rice), mitarashi dango (sweet skewered glazed rice-cake balls), wataame (cotton candy), and shave ice (freshly shaved ice topped with sweet beans, sweetened condensed milk, syrups, and fruits).

An Iron Cauldron in the Moonlit Night

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In this ancient tale, the villains Kofuno no Gengo and Koshi Hanzo try to steal a huge iron cooking pot on a moonlit night. It’s too big for them to carry away whole, so they attempt to saw it into smaller pieces.

Chang’e Flees to the Moon

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The Goddess of the Moon, called Chang’e or Chang-o, and originally known as Heng’e, is a mainstay of ancient tales. In Yoshitoshi’s print, she’s just partaken of the Elixir of Immortality after a terrible confrontation with Fengmeng, who sought to steal it from her. She flies up to the moon to live forever.