Did you know that in Japan, there is a culture of “Otsukimi” (moon viewing) during the season when the moon is considered the most beautiful of the year?
Kangetsusai, a moon-viewing event held at temples and shrines, is a rare opportunity for visitors to Japan to experience this quaint culture.
This article introduces the charms of the Kangetsusai!
What is Kangetsusai?
Kangetsusai is a Shinto ritual held on the occasion of the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival (mid-September to early October according to the modern calendar; September 29, 2023). It is believed to have been introduced from China during the Heian period (794-1185), and was a popular pastime among the aristocracy, during which people would enjoy reciting poems and playing the strings while gazing at the moon during the most beautiful time of the year.
The “moon” is also a name that appears in the four-character idiom “kacho-fu-getsu,” which is a Japanese term that describes beautiful scenes in the natural world. The beauty of the moon on an autumn day, when a pleasant breeze blows and the sound of insects can be heard, has a mysterious charm that captivates the hearts of modern Japanese people.
Such Kangetsusai are held at temples and shrines in Kyoto and elsewhere. They vary in scale, but one of the most spectacular and highly recommended for visitors to Japan is the “Kangetsu no Yube” at Daikakuji Temple in Kyoto.
"Kangetsu no Yube" at Daikakuji Temple, Kyoto
Daikakuji Temple, with a history of over 1,200 years, is located in the Arashiyama/Sagano area in a rich natural setting.
The Osawa-no-ike Pond on the temple grounds is the oldest man-made pond in Japan, with a circumference of approximately 1 km, and is one of the three best places in Japan to view the moon. The “Kangetsu no Yube” is held at Osawa Pond, where visitors can experience the courtly games of the Heian period.
Because the “Kangetsu no Yube” is held only once a year for a limited period of three days, there are actually many Japanese who have never been to this event.
Highlights of Daikakuji Temple's "Kangetsu no Yube"
(1)Matcha green powdered tea at Godaido Kangetsu Seating
If you apply in advance, you can first enjoy matcha green tea at the Kangetsudai in Godaido Hall, located by Osawa-no-ike Pond.
Kangetsudai is like a balcony of a hall set aside for otsukimi. One can imagine how special tsukimizi has been since ancient times.
The viewing platform is slightly higher than Osawa-no-ike Pond, so you can see the moon and the entire Osawa-no-ike Pond. The view is one of the most impressive!
(2)The famous moon viewed from the top of a boat, just like an aristocrat
Those who have applied in advance can enjoy matcha green tea and then take a cruise around Osawa-no-ike Pond on a ryutogekishu boat, which is a traditional Chinese boat.
The best way to enjoy the “Kangetsu no Yube” is to gaze at the moon while swaying on the boat.
The sound of the water on the quiet pond is the only sound, and the colors of the sky and the light of the moon change from moment to moment. The mystery of nature shocks the heart.
The Osawa-no-ike Pond and the surrounding mountains and trees are in perfect harmony with each other, as if they were calculatedly placed to enhance the moon. The sky just after sunset is also very beautiful!
(3)The moon reflected on quiet water
The moon in the sky is not the only beautiful thing.
Get off the boat and look at Osawa-no-ike Pond from the edge of the pond. The surface of the water is a mirror, and you can catch the reflection of the moon.
The moon reflected on the surface of the water shimmers when the wind blows, or streaks of light appear on the surface of the water depending on the weather. The indirect beauty created by nature also stirs the senses of Japanese people.
(4)Full moon puja and Dharma talk on the stage above the pond
At night, an altar is set up on the pond stage above Osawa-no-ike Pond and a full moon puja is held.
Dumplings, vegetables such as potatoes and beans, and flowers are offered, and monks from one mountain attend the puja to invite “Tsuki-ten” and pray for a good harvest of crops and people’s happiness.
After the puja, there is a Dharma talk
Do I need to make a reservation for Daikakuji Temple's "Kangetsu no Yube"?
Visitors may enter the temple grounds without a reservation by paying the entrance fee (limited admission may be available).
Matcha green tea at Godaido Kangetsu-seki and a tour of Osawa-no-ike Pond on a Ryutogekishu Boat are included in the package and are only available to those who apply for the “Special Ticket (5,000 yen)” in advance. Applications can be made through the Daikakuji website, and in case of cancellations, tickets will be sold on the day of the event.
*Applications for 2023 are no longer accepted.
Even if you do not get on a boat, you can still enjoy the atmosphere of the event. Please come and experience this once-a-year event that has continued in Japan since ancient times!
If you go to the festival, it may get cold after dark, so it is recommended to bring a jacket.
Directions to Daikakuji Temple
Daikakuji Temple is located in the Arashiyama/Sagano area. It is a bit far from the station, so it is convenient to take a bus from the nearest station.
【From Arashiyama Station on the Hankyu Kyoto Line】
From the bus stop in front of the station, take the Kyoto City Bus or Kyoto Bus and get off at the “Daikakuji” stop (about 12 minutes).
【From Arashiyama Station on the Randen Line】
From the “Arashiyama Tenryuji-mae” stop, take Kyoto City Bus or Kyoto Bus and get off at the “Daikakuji” stop (about 9 to 11 minutes).
【From JR Saga-Arashiyama Station】
From the “Saga-Arashiyama Eki-mae” stop, take the Kyoto City Bus and get off at the “Daikakuji” stop (approx. 6 minutes).
【From Karasuma Station on the Hankyu Kyoto Line (Shijo Subway Station)】
From the “Shijo-Karasuma” stop, take the Kyoto City Bus and get off at the “Daikakuji” stop (46 minutes).
【From Saiin Station on the Hankyu Kyoto Line (Randen Saiin Station)】
From the “Nishioji-Shijo” stop, take the Kyoto City Bus and get off at the “Daikakuji” stop (about 33 minutes).
【From JR Kyoto Station】
From the “Kyoto Ekimae” stop, take the Kyoto City Bus and get off at the “Daikakuji” stop (about 54 minutes).
5 temples and shrines in Kyoto that hold Kangetsusai
There are other temples and shrines in Kyoto that hold Kangetsusai. Each temple or shrine offers different events, such as dedication of Gagaku (traditional Japanese court music) that can be viewed by the general public, and matcha (powdered green tea) ceremonies, so please check the website of each temple or shrine for details.
Kangetsu Tea Ceremony at Kodaiji Temple
Friday-Sunday, September 8-30, 2023, 17:00-17:30 reception
8,000 yen (including thin tea ceremony, guided tour of the temple, and dim sum)
*Reservations required by 16:00 the day before.
526, Shimokawara-cho Kodaiji, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto [MAP]
15-minute walk from Hankyu Kyoto Line Kyoto-kawaramachi Station
Gionsha Kangetsu Festival at Yasaka Shrine
Friday, September 29, 2023, 19:00 – 21:00 approx.
Dedication of the recitation of the dedication poem and the dedication of the bugaku dance: 19:00- (free of charge for participation and observation)
625, Gionmachi Kitagawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto [MAP]
8-minute walk from Hankyu Kyoto Line Kyoto-kawaramachi Station
Kamo Kangetsusai at Kamigamo Shrine
September 29, 2023 (Fri.) 17:00- Kagura (Shinto music and dance) and Japanese drum performances, etc.
[Tsukimi Dango Distribution] 300 people on a first-come, first-served basis (numbered tickets will be distributed from 16:00)
Meigetsu Kangensai at Shimogamo Shrine
Friday, September 29, 2023, 17:30 – 21:00 approx.
Free of charge (1,000 yen for tea ceremony)
[Dedication of Koto, Shakuhachi, Gagaku, and Heian aristocratic dances] from around 19:00 (free admission)
59, Shimogamo Izumikawa-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto [MAP]
Take the Kyoto city bus from Hankyu Kyoto Line Kyoto-kawaramachi Station
and alight at ShimogamoJinja-mae. It's a short walk away.
Meigetsusai at Hirano Shrine
Friday, September 29, 2023 from 18:30
Free (500 yen for matcha tea ceremony)
1, Miyamoto-cho, Hirano, Kita-ku, Kyoto [MAP]
Take Kyoto City Bus from Hankyu Kyoto Line Kyoto Kawaramachi or Saiin Stations and alight at Kinugasa-ko-mae.
It's a short walk away.
If you are planning to visit Japan in the fall, why not experience the elegant Japanese culture on a trip to Kyoto?