“One folk tale I know is a Chinese one– about the lady and rabbit on the moon. I don’t remember it that well.” The informant racked their brain for the information. “There was an immortal lady who was in love with a human man. Because of this, they weren’t meant to be together, though. So she was banished to live on the moon with the rabbit to keep her company. There, she waits for the man to come to her, but since he’s mortal, he died on earth. This is why you’re able to see a woman and a rabbit on the moon.”
RELATIONSHIP – “I don’t have much of a relationship with these pieces. It’s cool, but it was something I had to study. Everyone I knew, knew the story. It’s very much a Chinese folk tale that a lot of people here [in the U.S.] don’t tend to know or study.”
WHERE THEY HEARD IT – “I had to study a lot of folk tales in Chinese school. They teach it everywhere. I had to read it a bunch then.”
INTERPRETATION – “It’s just a cute fairy tale that people tell children. I don’t really think there’s a lesson, or says much about morals. It’s just an origin story explaining a part of the world people back then weren’t able to explain. Worldbuilding.”
This folk tale seems very similar to one that I know about a woman named Chang’e and the love of her life named Houyi; and I think that they either are the same story, but my informant didn’t remember all the details, or they are different stories that derive from one another. While this story seems to serve primarily as the reasoning for why people can “see” the image of a woman and rabbit on the moon, it also works as a lesson. I think that an important part of this story is the fact that the woman stays, waiting on the moon for the man even though he has died long ago. She seems to be trapped in a denial stage of grief, refusing to move on. Because of this, she’s perpetually stuck, waiting both physically and emotionally.
Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and PPD major. He is a junior at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. His family is of Japanese heritage but has lived in the U.S. in Southern California for several generations.
Context: I was talking with the informant about any folklore his family tells.
Item: “So there’s this story that my mom used to tell me about why the moon looks the way it does. Once upon a time, there were a bunch of animals that lived together peacefully. They would go play on the mountain during the day and, at the end of the night, return to the forest to rest until the next day. An old man who lived on the moon came down one day disguised as a wanderer to test the animals. He asked if they could spare anything to eat and the animals each went off. A monkey brought him his collection of nuts, a fox his fish from a trap, and the rabbit ran off trying to find something. But, the rabbit couldn’t find anything, and had to go back to the old man empty handed. Discouraged, the rabbit then told the monkey to get some grass and told the fox to light it on fire and jumped on the fire bed, telling the old man to eat him, as he had nothing to offer. The man was so touched by this sacrifice that he took the rabbit and restored his form and brought him to heaven. He placed him to rest on the moon, and that is why, to this day, we see the rabbit on the moon”.
Analysis: This tale seems to show the importance of kindness and sacrifice that is important to the Japanese. Hospitality is also seen as important, as seen by the animals dropping everything they were doing and assisting the stranger. Finally, when the rabbit realized it had nothing to give, it unquestioningly decided to sacrifice itself to feed the man. Ritual suicide, known as Seppuku, was a huge part of Japanese culture and very accepted among the Japanese people. It is not a sin, such as in Western cultures with mono-theistic religions to take your own life. We also see a tendency to try to explain the unexplainable and assign meaning to all things in the world. This is a common motif among all cultures, though some take it to further extremes than others.
Note: This tale can be found in Dictionary of Nature Myths: Legends of the Earth, Sea, and Sky by Tamra Andrews.