Did You Know?
The “Man in the Moon”
From early childhood, you were probably told about the man in the moon. It’s easy for us all to assume that everyone in the world sees that same man looking down at them. However, different cultures have different traditions, and those cultures don’t always see “eye to eye” with the man in the moon. If you’ve grown up in the United States or in Western Europe, you may assume that everyone on Earth sees the face of a man in the patterns on the surface of the moon just like you do. That isn’t the case, however.
The interpretations of the patterns on the lunar surface created by its craters are highly subjective and very much regionalized, and while we may refer to the face of the moon as “the man in the moon,” the people in far eastern cultures don’t see a human face at all, but rather a rabbit, known as the “moon rabbit”.
Though this may seem strange to us, in East Asian culture there are several myths that explain how a rabbit ended up on the face of the moon. In Chinese folklore, the rabbit on the moon is pounding herbs with a mortar and pestle to create the elixir of life that sustains the moon goddess Chang’e. In the Japanese and Korean versions of the tale, the rabbit is pounding ingredients for rice cakes. There is also a Buddhist tale found throughout the region that dates back to the fourth century wherein a monkey, an otter, a jackal, and a rabbit decide they will be charitable on the day of the full moon by helping an old beggar. Only the rabbit proves to be truly virtuous and the old man reveals himself to be the Buddhist deity Śakra who rewards the rabbit’s selflessness by imprinting an image of the rabbit upon the face of the moon.