September and October are the months that the Japanese enjoy o-tsukimi, or moon viewing events, because the moon is beautiful during this time of year. Also because it’s the harvest season, people show their gratitude to mother nature by offering what they have harvested and eating and drinking under the beautiful moon. The moon can be seen from anywhere, but here are some of the best-known moon-viewing spots that will impress you with their natural beauty.
Katsurahama in Shikoku Island’s Kochi Prefecture is a sandy and rocky beach facing the Pacific Ocean. This landscape created by sand, rocks, pine trees and the ocean, epitomizes what the Japanese traditionally esteem, what they call Hakusa Seisho (white sands and green pine trees). Since it faces west, people can see the beautiful moon rising from the ocean and lighting up the beach. Particularly under the full moon, it’s breathtaking to watch the silhouette of rocks and pines rising up and ocean waves shimmering with the moonlight. You also experience this with just the sound of the waves.
The Japanese especially like Katsurahama because this place is related to historical hero, Ryoma Sakamoto, who had tremendous influence on the opening of Japan and the abandonment of its feudal system. Local people are proud of him and they created Ryoma’s bronze statue now situated on a hill overlooking the beach.
Visitors can appreciate the irresistible beauty of Togetsukyo in Kyoto. Located in the internationally famous tourist area of Arashiyama, the 155-meter long wooden bridge over the Katsuragawa River was originally founded by a monk in the late 9th century. Later in the 13th century, the bridge was rebuilt by Emperor Kameyama in its current location. The name Togetsukyo, translated into “Moon Crossing Bridge,” is actually a quote from the Emperor when watching the full moon slowly and elegantly crossing over the bridge. He said, “My reign is like the immaculate full moon.” The current bridge was completed in 1934, and reinforced concrete is used for its foundation to stabilize it.
Kyoto neighboring Shiga Prefecture also has a lot of historical destinations. One of them is Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu City, which has been famous for moon viewing for centuries. Located on the side of Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan, the temple is built on a hilltop overlooking the southern tip of the lake. The view from the temple in autumn was particularly appreciated by nobles during the Heian Period (794-1185) and it appears in many works of literature from the period written by these nobles. Such works include The Tale of Genji and Pillow Book. Today the temple is lit up during the moon-viewing season, showing a spectacular view under the moon.
The view constructed with sand, rocks, waves, pine trees and the moon in Katsurahama is breathtaking. Perfect for ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock print) and even Instagram. Unfortunately swimming at the beach is prohibited because of the fast current.
The Moon over Togetsukyo with Arashiyama in the background attracts many visitors, especially during the spring sakura and fall foliage seasons.
Other Notable Moon-Viewing Spots
Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture
Known as one of the best scenic spots in Japan, Matsushima is a group of over 260 small islands in the bay facing the Pacific Ocean. Directly translated as Pine Islands, most of the small islands in Matsushima grow pine trees, creating a beautiful look, particularly when lit up by the moon. The view of the moonlit archipelago is so gorgeous and has been appreciated for centuries. Today, people can enjoy the magnificent view from Kanran-tei, a deck that was once used by the lordship family of the Date clan since early 17th Century.
Shinshu Obasute, Nagano Prefecture
There are over thousands of tanada (terraced paddy fields) on the elevation 460 to 560 meters high in Obasute, and the tanada create interesting views when the moon shines, which is often described as “tagoto no tsuki” (the moon is reflected on every paddy field). The unique views have inspired artists, poets and writers for centuries. Obasute’s beauty was first popularized by a legendary poet in Edo Period, Basho Matsuo, (Oku no Hosomichi [Narrow Road of Oku]) in the late 17th Century.
Sarusawa-ike, Nara Prefecture
This pond of 360-meter circumference is located inside Nara Koen Park, famous for 1,200 wild deer inhabiting the park. Visitors can look over UNESCO’s World Heritage property, a 5-tiered pagoda of Kofuku-ji Temple, from the pond, and when viewing the moon, the beautiful silhouette of the pagoda, willow trees on the pond side and perfect reflection on the calm pond create a picturesque scene.