Fuchagi: フチャギ (more Okinawa mochi!)

フチャギ (or ふちゃぎ) fuchagi is a special Okinawa mochi; it is rice cake covered in azuki beans (小豆). This is a little different than muuchii. As I mentioned in other posts, beans are believed to ward off evil or demons. One of the main times of year to eat fuchagi is during Mid-Autumn Festival, around Autumn equinox and Tsukimi moon-viewing (occurs on the 15th of the 8th lunar month). They are also put on the altar and hinukan as an offering to give thanks for the current good harvest and to pray for future good harvests.

I was told the story behind the origin of fuchagi thanks to one of my older students. It is a kind of ghost story, really, but it has a happy ending.

Story of the origins of Fuchagi:

One day a man was kidnapped by a demon called a Majimun マジムン (a type of Ryukuan devil/monster) and entrapped in the tomb of an Aji 按司 (a type Ryukuan samurai, or feudal lord, high ranking person), located in a deserted area. He could not move and he could carely speak; only his hand could fit through a small opening to the outside of the tomb. He would cry for help in a husky voice, “Help me, help me…” but he received no replies.

After a few days, one night 2 men were walking near the tomb to take shelter from the rain. Suddenly, they noticed a hand emerge from the hole! They were terrified as they saw the human hand coming from the tomb, but they heard a husky voice pleading for help. The prisoner in the tomb told them his name and the village he was from, so the 2 men rescued him from the tomb, then bringing him back to his village via horseback.

However, 49 days had already passed since the man’s disappearance, so his family and the village held a funeral (one of the traditional number of days to hold a type of Buddhist funeral service), even without a body. Everyone was so surprised to see him approach as they were holding his funeral, but shed tears of joy at his return. The plain mochi used in the funeral was changed to celebratory mochi by adding beans to the surface (beans are used in celebrations and for warding off evil). Everyone ate the mochi covered in beans, and from then forward, fuchagi mochi is eaten to protect against evil every August 15th according to the lunar calendar.

Don’t live in Okinawa but want to make it at home? Here is the recipe at the bottom of this blog post (just scroll down); you can find all the ingredients pretty easily, but depending on where you live you may need to find an Asian market if these are not common in your regular grocery stores.



Tsukimi: 月見

Tsuki-mi means “moon-watching,” tsuki= moon and mi= to watch/see. You will also hear moon-viewing festivals referred to as uchichiumachii ウチチウマチー(お月お祭り) in Okinawa language.

There are 2x you are supposed to view the full moon in Japanese culture. The first is Jugoya 十五夜 (also romanized Juugoya, translation “15th night”), held on August 15 of the lunar calendar; in Okinawan it is called Juuguya じゅーぐや. You may also often see it referred to as 中秋の名月 chuushuu no meigetsu, Mid-autumn moon festival or harvest festival. The second is Jusanya 十三夜 (also romanized Juusanya, translation “13th night”), September 13 of the lunar calendar. Jusanya is also referred to as 後の月 nochi no tsuki (later moon). It is often thought to bring bad luck to celebrate only Jugoya, since the 2 moon-viewing days are related.

In Okinawa, there are some special types of “mooncakes” called fuchagi ふちゃぎ, that are eaten. It is mochi, a.k.a. “rice cakes” (possibly flavored with brown sugar, yomogi/mugwort, beniimo, or just plain) covered in azuki beans. I will add more posts about beans in the future, but basically beans are known to drive out or keep away demons (oni 鬼). I have no real good idea as to why beans hold such mystical powers, but almost every holiday or celebration involves beans in some way.

For my celebration, I mixed in a little Chinese mooncakes, as well as Okinawan fuchagi, and Japanese dango 団子. Very multi-cultural. I also drank some wine, set up some pampas (susuki ススキ) grass, but did not write any poetry (haiku 俳句)… sorry Moon.

There is also a children’s song; Japanese people believe you can see a rabbit pounding mochi in the moon. The song and translation is something like this:

うさぎ うさぎ             Rabbit, rabbit

うさぎ うさぎ            Rabbit, rabbit
何見て はねる            What are you watching while hopping/leaping around?
十五夜お月さま            The Juugoya moon
見てはねる                is what I watch while hopping/leaping around!

In Itoman, a large Tug-of-War (tsunahiki) is held on Juugoya; many places will have lion dances 獅子舞 (shishimai) or other festive events, such as hounen-matsuri  豊年祭 (Harvest festivals), during this time of year, to celebrate the moon, the changing of seasons, and harvest time.

Shuri-jo holds a Mid-Autumn banquet (Chuushuu no utage 中秋の宴) festival around Juugoya and Autumn Equinox. During the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom, a banquet was held to entertain the Chinese emperor envoys, and today a moon-viewing party reenacts the “Mid-Autumn Banquet” in the present day. There is a parade, and a King and Queen contest is held. At this festival, you can see kumiodori (traditional Ryukyuan dance), beautiful costumes, and traditional music, as the castle is lit up at night.

In Okinawa, Juugoya is also falls on one of the days for taking care of the family hinukan (read more on the link).