The moon is considered one of the most beautiful sights to behold from our earth. That is why it is a common depiction in various stories, artworks, songs and more.
If you look to Japan, you will also find that the moon is referenced in abundance throughout its culture and mythology.
The word for moon in Japanese is tsuki (月 / つき), but there are many other beautiful words and phrases related to the moon.
Let’s start with vocabulary related to ‘moon’ in Japanese, and then learn about its significance in Japanese life!
How to say moon in Japanese
Depending on the context, the kanji 月 can have different meanings. The kunyomi reads as tsuki (つき), which is the stand alone word used for ‘moon’. On the other hand, the onyomi readings are getsu (げつ) or gatsu (がつ) and generally refer to the word ‘month’, but we’ll come back to this a little later!
Just remember that tsuki is the standard word for moon in Japanese! But what other words for moon could there be?
Sometimes, Japanese people may use the romanised muun (ムーン / むーん) which is of course borrowed from English. It is common to see this version of the word in media, for example ‘Sailor Moon’, known in Japanese as Seeraa Muun (セーラームーン / せーらーむーん).
This word is simple enough, as man 満 (まん) means ‘full’ and we know that the kanji 月 means ‘moon’.
However, in this case we don’t pronounce it as tsuki here, but rather as getsu (げつ). This is because when you find two or more kanji combined as one utterance in a kanji compound, you often find that the word is read using onyomi.
Confusing, I know! Take a look at this post to gain a better understanding of kunyomi and onyomi.
Han (半 / はん) is the Japanese word for ‘half’ or ‘semi’. Paired with the kanji for ‘moon’, it refers to what we know as a ‘half-moon’ in English.
This phenomenon occurs during the moon’s orbit of earth, when it reaches a position where it appears half-illuminated by the sun.
This word is not as straightforward as the previous two, but with a little explanation it makes perfect sense! Let’s break it up:
- ミ (み) – mi refers to the number ‘three’
- 日 (っか) – ka means ‘day’
- 月- tsuki means ‘moon’
So, we are left with ‘three day moon’, which doesn’t make much sense at first… However, this word actually originated a long time ago when Japanese people followed the lunar calendar, when a crescent moon would occur on the third day, starting from the new moon.
Shingetsu is easy enough to understand as shin (新 / しん) means ‘new’. It is the first stage of the moon phases and occurs when the moon is in a position whereby the shadowed side faces our earth, resulting in what looks like a moonless sky.
Other moon related words
A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon appears to darken due to it moving into the earth’s shadow. On average, they occur just three times per year. The Japanese word for lunar eclipse is gesshoku (月食 / げっしょく). The second kanji shoku (食 / しょく) means ‘to eat’, as the moon looks as if it’s being eaten up by the earth’s shadow!
Hikari (光 / ひかり) means ‘light’. When paired with the kanji for ‘moon’, the word as a whole is pronounced gekkou (月光 / げっこう) and of course, means ‘moonlight’. You may often come across this word in poetry or song lyrics as it is a symbol of beauty, and indeed a lovely natural sight to behold.
You may know that in English, ‘Monday’ was named after the moon! In fact, all of the days of the week were named by the ancient Romans according to celestial bodies. In French, ‘la lune’ means ‘moon’ and ‘lundi means ‘Monday’. You see the connection?
Well, you will find the same tie in Japanese! Combine getsu (月) with the word for ‘day of the week’, youbi (曜日 / ようび) and we have getsuyoubi which is ‘Monday’ in Japanese.
Months of the year
As mentioned previously, the kanji 月 also means ‘month’. Until 1873, Japan followed a lunar calendar, and since the duration of the lunar cycle is approximately a month, this makes perfect sense!
Therefore, as January is the first month of the year it is known as ichigatsu (一月 / いちがつ), combining the kanji for the number ‘one’ and the kanji for ‘month’. It continues with nigatsu (二月 / にがつ) being ‘February’, sangatsu (三月 / さんがつ) being ‘March’ and so forth…
The moon in Japanese culture
You may have heard of the Japanese festival called hanami or ‘flower viewing’ which takes place in springtime as an appreciation for the beautiful cherry blossoms across Japan.
Well, there is another festival which takes place during autumn in Japan. This festival is dedicated to the moon and is called tsukimi (月見 / つきみ) which translates to ‘moon viewing’.
Tsukimi is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, which usually falls sometime in September, when the moon is at its biggest and brightest. Records of tsukimi date all the way back to the Heian period (794-1185).
During tsukimi, families or friends will gather together to view the spectacle and eat tsukimi dango- a special type of rice cake for the occasion.
Other seasonal foods are enjoyed such as taro, chestnuts, squash and also eggs as the yolk mimics the full moon! Susuki or ‘pampas grass’ is often displayed to ward off any evil spirits.
Tsuki no usagi
Tsuki no usagi (月の兎 / つきのうさぎ) or ‘rabbit on the moon’ is a famous story from Japanese folklore. According to the legend, it is said that there is a mochi-making rabbit on the moon. But, how did he get there?
The story goes as follows: One day, the man on the moon came down to earth to test three friends’ kindness. Those three friends were a monkey, a fox and a rabbit, sitting around a campfire.
When the old man asked them to spare him some food, the monkey offered him fruit while the fox offered him fish. Unfortunately, the rabbit did not have anything to offer. Instead, he said he would throw himself into the fire so that the old man could have a meal.
The old man was so touched by the rabbit’s sacrifice that he decided to bring the rabbit to live with him on the moon.
It seems that if you look closely at the moon, the dark shadows appear to show the figure of a rabbit making mochi, hence why mochi is eaten at tsukimi!
‘The moon is beautiful’
In Japanese, the phrase tsuki ga kirei desu ne (月が綺麗ですね / つきがきれいですね) translates to ‘the moon is beautiful, isn’t it?’. However, it holds another secret meaning! Well-known Japanese writer Natsume Soseki proposed the phrase as a more indirect, romantic expression of the sentiment ‘I love you’.
All about the moon in Japanese
Remember, the main way to say moon in Japanese is tsuki (月/ つき), but there are also many unique and charming Japanese words to describe the different moon phases and phenomena!
If you want to learn more about the beautiful Japanese language and culture, our top recommended course is JapanesePod101.
Before you go, you might also enjoy these posts:
- How to Say Sun in Japanese
- 70+ Beautiful Japanese Nature Words to Inspire You
- 12 Beautiful and Untranslatable Japanese Words
- 12+ Traditional Japanese Words For Flowers [and Their Meanings]
Hannah is a half Irish/half Japanese girl living in Ireland. Her love for Japan and the Japanese language led her to studying languages and translation in university where she specialised in Japanese. She spent a year studying abroad at Rikkyo University in Tokyo. In her free time, Hannah enjoys using her sewing machine to upcycle clothes and create new pieces!