National | Regional voices: Chubu

Aichi illustrator shines light on local moon-viewing tradition called 'Japan's Halloween'

Chunichi Shimbun

There is a tradition in Japan of holding moon-viewing parties to celebrate the harvest on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, believed to be the best time of the year to watch the full moon, and this year it fell on Sept. 13.

In some parts of Aichi Prefecture, including eastern Nagoya and the city of Nisshin, children walk around the neighborhood that night, calling on houses for treats — a local custom known as o-tsukimi dorobō (moon-viewing thieves). Variants of the tradition are also practiced in other parts of the country.

The custom, which resembles trick or treat, is said to be derived from the tradition of allowing children to snatch offerings, including rice dumplings and taros, during o-tsukimi.

Kaori Nishihama, 46, a Nisshin illustrator, is conducting a survey on her website about the practice — sometimes referred to as the Japanese version of Halloween — to collect information on various rules and customs for o-tsukimi dorobō handed down in different parts of Japan.

“I hope to introduce the lively local tradition to many people,” Nishihama said.

Nishihama created a website on o-tsukimi dorobō in 2011 to promote the tradition and provide illustrated cards, which can be used to stick on bags of snacks given to children, and pamphlets explaining the custom free of charge online.

In 2017, the illustrator, who has enjoyed the custom herself with her four children, published a children’s book titled “O-tsukimi Dorobo.”

Nishihama, a former elementary school teacher and a native of the city of Tokushima, learned of the tradition from her pupils when she started working at an elementary school in Nagoya’s Midori Ward.

She was quite impressed by the tradition, which is not seen in her hometown.

After seeing a lot of hits from across the country on her website around this time of the year, she decided to do a survey to see how the practice is carried out nationwide.

The online survey includes questions on what they do on the day of the event, as each area has different customs. Some communities ask children to ring doorbells to receive their treat and others leave it outside on the doorstep.

The questionnaire is available online until Monday.

So far, respondents are mainly residents of Nisshin and nearby areas. Nishihama said she hopes to create an illustration map if she gets enough responses.

“On the day of o-tsukimi dorobō, lots of children are walking down the streets and the town gets really lively,” Nishihama said. “I hope people will also write down interesting anecdotes in the questionnaire if there are any.”

According to Michiko Kobayakawa, associate professor of folklore studies at Chukyo University in Aichi, o-tsukimi dorobō is widely held in the eastern Owari region, which includes Nagoya, Nisshin and Nagakute, but does not exist in the western Owari region. The custom also remains in the northern part of Mie Prefecture, including Yokkaichi, which is adjacent to Aichi.

“In the past, the custom was conducted more as an agricultural ritual, but currently it has become popular as an event among families raising children in newly developed residential areas,” Kobayakawa said. “It is interesting to see local traditions surviving as customs of today while changing their styles, roles and meanings.”

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Sept. 13.

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