The image of a rabbit and mortar delineated on the Moon's surface
|Literal meaning||Moon rabbit/hare|
|Alternative Chinese name|
|Literal meaning||Jade rabbit/hare|
The moon rabbit or moon hare is a mythical figure who lives on the Moon in Far Eastern folklore, based on pareidolia interpretations that identify the dark markings on the near side of the Moon as a rabbit or hare. The folklore originated in China and then spread to other Asian cultures. In East Asian folklore, the rabbit is seen as pounding with a mortar and pestle, but the contents of the mortar differ among Chinese, Japanese and Korean folklore. In Chinese folklore, the rabbit often is portrayed as a companion of the Moon goddess Chang'e, constantly pounding the elixir of life for her; but in Japanese and Korean versions, the rabbit is pounding the ingredients for rice cakes. In some Chinese versions, the rabbit pounds medicine for the mortals. Unrelated moon folklore arising among native cultures of the Americas, also have rabbit themes and characters.
An early Chinese source called the Chu Ci, a Western Han anthology of Chinese poems from the Warring States period, notes that along with a toad, there is a hare on the Moon who constantly pounds herbs for the immortals. This notion is supported by later texts, including the Song-era Taiping Imperial Reader. As rabbits were not yet introduced to China during Western Han, the original image was not a rabbit but a hare.
Han Dynasty poets call the hare on the Moon the "Jade Hare" () or the "Gold Hare" (), and these phrases were used often, in place of the word for the Moon. A famous poet of Tang China, Li Bai, relates how "The rabbit in the moon pounds the medicine in vain" in his poem, "The Old Dust".
In the Buddhist Jataka tales,Tale 316 relates that a monkey, an otter, a jackal, and a rabbit resolved to practice charity on the day of the full moon (Uposatha), believing a demonstration of great virtue would earn a great reward. When an old man begged for food from them, the monkey gathered fruits from the trees and the otter collected fish, while the jackal wrongfully pilfered a lizard and a pot of milk-curd. The rabbit, who knew only how to gather grass, instead offered its own body, throwing itself into a fire the man had built. The rabbit, was not burnt, however. The old man revealed that he was ?akra, and touched by the rabbit's virtue, drew the likeness of the rabbit on the Moon for all to see. It is said the lunar image is still draped in the smoke that rose when the rabbit cast itself into the fire.
A version of this story may be found in the Japanese anthology, Konjaku Monogatarish?, where the rabbit's companions are a fox, instead of a jackal, and a monkey.
The moon rabbit legend is popular and part of local folklore throughout Asia. It may be found in diverse cultures in China, Japan, India, Korea, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Myanmar.
This legend also gave rise to the Mid-Autumn Festivals of China and Vietnam, Tsukimi of Japan, and Chuseok of Korea, Sampeah Preah Khae in Cambodia, all of which celebrate the legend of the moon rabbit.
Presumed to be arising likewise, through lunar pareidolia, legends of moon rabbits also exist among some of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. These legends are not considered to have been influenced by Asian cultures.
In Mayan art, glyphs, hieroglyphics, and inscriptions, a rabbit frequently is shown with their Moon Goddess and another deity related to the moon.
According to an Aztec legend, the god Quetzalcoatl, then living on Earth as a human, started on a journey and, after walking for a long time, became hungry and tired. With no food or water around, he thought he would die. Then a rabbit grazing nearby offered herself as food to save his life. Quetzalcoatl, moved by the rabbit's noble offering, elevated her to the Moon, then lowered her back to Earth and told her, "You may be just a rabbit, but everyone will remember you; there is your image in light, for all people and for all times."
Another Mesoamerican legend tells of the brave and noble sacrifice of Nanahuatzin during the creation of the fifth sun. Humble Nanahuatzin sacrificed himself in fire to become the new sun, but the wealthy god Tecciztecatl hesitated four times before he finally set himself alight to become the Moon. Due to Tecciztecatl's cowardice, the deities felt that the Moon should not be so bright as the sun, so one of the deities threw a rabbit at his face to diminish his light. Another version of the legend says that Tecciztecatl was in the form of a rabbit when he sacrificed himself to become the Moon, casting his shadow there.
Farther north in America in a region now identified as ranging across Canada and United States, a Cree cultural legend tells a different story, about a young rabbit who wished to ride the Moon. Only the crane was willing to take him there. The trip stretched the crane's legs as the heavy rabbit held them tightly, leaving them elongated as the legs of all cranes are now. When they reached the Moon, the rabbit touched the crane's head with a bleeding paw, leaving the red mark those cranes wear to this day. According to the legend, on clear nights, Rabbit still may be seen riding the Moon.
The Japanese cosmetics company, Makanai, has a logo that is a moon rabbit pounding gold, representing abundance of harvest, beauty, and longevity. Makanai was established in 1999 as a tribute to the century-old tradition of goldbeaters manually making gold leaves at its predecessor company, Yoshitaka Gold Leaf Foundry. The gold foundry was established in 1899 in Kanazawa.
Many video games have major characters based on the tale, including Reisen Udongein Inaba from Touhou Project, the Broodals from Super Mario Odyssey, and Chang'e and the Jade Rabbit/Moon Rabbit are featured as playable characters in the video game Smite. Tsuki Adventure, a passive-adventure mobile game published by Hyperbeard, includes an event relating to the Mooncake festival and includes a jade rabbit as event decoration.
The Jade Rabbit is the name of a scout rifle in the Destiny series of games. In Destiny 2, players can visit the Moon and find miniature statues of chibi-styled jade rabbit dolls which accept offerings of rice cake.