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Moon rabbit
Rabbit in the moon standing by pot.png
The image of a rabbit on Moon's surface
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 月兔
Simplified Chinese 月兔
Literal meaning Moon rabbit
alternative Chinese name
Chinese 玉兔
Literal meaning Jade rabbit
Japanese name
Kanji 月の兎
Korean name
Hangul 달토끼

The Moon rabbit, also called the Jade Rabbit, is a rabbit that lives on the moon in East Asian folklore. The legends about the moon rabbit are based on the traditional pareidolia that identifies the markings of the moon as a rabbit pounding in a mortar. In Chinese folklore, it is often portrayed as a companion of the moon goddess Chang'e, constantly pounding the elixir of life for her; but in Japanese and Korean versions it is just pounding mochi or tteok.

Contents

History

The earliest records suggesting that there is a rabbit on the moon appears in the Warring States period in ancient China. The Chu Ci, a Western Han anthology of Chinese poems from the Warring States period, notes that along with a toad, there is a rabbit on the moon who constantly pounds herbs for the immortals. This notion is supported by later texts, including the Imperial Readings of the Taiping Era encyclopedia of the Song Dynasty. Han Dynasty poets call the rabbit on the moon the Jade Rabbit or the Gold Rabbit (金兔), so in the days of old people also use the words "Jade Rabbit" and "Gold Rabbit" to refer to the moon.

Folklore

White Rabbit in the Moon making the elixir of immortality. From an 18th-century imperial robe embroidery

In the Buddhist story "Śaśajâtaka", a monkey, an otter, a jackal, and a rabbit resolved to practice charity on the Uposatha, believing a demonstration of great virtue would earn a great reward.

When an old man begged for food, the monkey gathered fruits from the trees and the otter collected dead fish from the river bank, 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, however, was not burnt. The old man revealed himself to be Śakra, 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 can be found in the Japanese anthology Konjaku Monogatarishū, where the rabbit's companions are a fox and a monkey.

Interestingly, similar legends occur in Mexican folklore, where people also identified the markings on the moon as a rabbit. According to an Aztec legend, when the god Quetzalcoatl lived in Earth as a man, he started a journey. After walking for a long time, he became hungry and tired. With no food or water around, he thought he would die. Then, a rabbit grazing nearby offered himself as food to save his life. Quetzalcoatl, moved by the rabbit's noble offering, elevated the rabbit to the moon, then lowered him back to Earth, and told him, "You may be just a rabbit, but everyone will remember you; there is your image in light, for all men 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 gods felt that the moon should not be as bright as the sun, so one of the gods threw a rabbit at his face to diminish his light. It is also said that Tecciztecatl was in the form of a rabbit when he sacrificed himself to become the moon, casting the shadow of a rabbit.

Modern references

A modern representation of the moon rabbit.

A popular culture manifestation of this tradition can be found in the title character of Sailor Moon, whose name is Usagi Tsukino, being it a Japanese pun on "rabbit of the moon" when read in Eastern order (Tsukino Usagi).

In Clover Studio's PlayStation 2 game Ōkami, the rabbit spirit of the Chinese zodiac is depicted making mochi and also grants the player the ability to draw a crescent in the sky to summon the moon. In the PlayStation 2 game The Adventures of Cookie & Cream, the characters of Cookie and Cream are left to look after the moon. The final image of them is a shadow on the moon, pounding something with a mallet. The Touhou Project series has a character named Reisen Udongein Inaba, a rabbit from the moon with the power to induce lunacy with her eyes.

The moon rabbit was also mentioned in the conversation between Houston and the Apollo 11 crew just before the first moon landing:[1]

Houston: Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning there's one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-o has been living there for 4000 years. It seems she was banished to the moon because she stole the pill for immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is only standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not recorded.

Collins: Okay, we'll keep a close eye for the bunny girl.

The American electronic music group, Rabbit in the Moon, gets their name from this legend.

In the Dragon Ball series (at the end of the very first manga volume), young Goku defeats an evil character named Boss Rabbit, who tyrannised a village where he, Bulma and Oolong made a stop early in their journey. Boss Rabbit had the power to turn whoever he touched into carrots, doing so to Bulma. Defeating him and his henchmen, Goku convinced him to bring Bulma back to her human form. He then used his Magical Staff to take Boss Rabbit and his henchmen to the Moon. Goku promises to bring them back to Earth if they make treats for all the children of earth for one whole year. In the final scenes of the episode, Boss Rabbit and his henchmen are seen pounding mochi in a large wooden mortar.

References

See also


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