The Story of the Moon Rabbit

The Mid-Autumn harvest folklore

Arianna Giavardi - Unsplash


Did you know that folklore related to the moon is a common theme in Mid-Autumn harvest festivals around the world? In Korea, when you gaze up at the full moon, you might see the silhouette of a rabbit making rice cakes. But what's the story behind this celestial rabbit?

Historical Context

Believed to have originated from the Jataka tales of Buddhist scriptures, the Moon Rabbit's self-sacrifice to feed the starving old man—later revealed to be the celestial deity, Śakra—represents the Buddhist virtues of selflessness and compassion. This narrative entered Korea as early as the 4th century during the Three Kingdoms period, with the advent of Buddhism.

Artistic Representations

In Korean art, the Moon Rabbit is often depicted pounding ingredients for rice cakes in a mortar, perpetuating the idea of continual service. These images can be found in a variety of mediums, from paintings and sculptures to decorative designs on traditional Korean garments, pottery, and even architecture.

Cross-Cultural Comparisons

The Moon Rabbit is not an exclusively Korean phenomenon. In Chinese and Japanese versions of the story, the rabbit is depicted pounding the elixir of life for the moon goddess Chang'e, showcasing a different cultural emphasis on immortality and the divine. Contrasting these variations can offer fascinating insights into the values and beliefs of different East Asian societies.

Modern Implications

While the Moon Rabbit may seem like a mere fable from the past, its influence is still perceptible in modern Korea. For instance, during the Mid-Autumn festival, a time when the moon is at its fullest, families come together to make songpyeon (a type of rice cake), a ritual that harkens back to the rice cake-pounding rabbit on the moon.

Furthermore, the story of the Moon Rabbit has even made its way into the world of K-pop. The global sensation BTS released a song titled "Moon" on their album "Map of the Soul: 7". The song alludes to the tale of the Moon Rabbit, showcasing the enduring relevance of this folklore in contemporary Korean pop culture.

Cultural Significance

The story of the Moon Rabbit provides a valuable lens through which to view Korean society. It reflects the traditional emphasis on community, cooperation, and altruism—values that are still cherished and upheld today. By understanding these traditional tales, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the rich tapestry of Korean culture.