Hundreds gather at Lake Merritt for Japanese Moon Viewing Festival

Text and Photos by Luisa Conlon.

On Sunday night, Oaklanders gathered by moonlight for a traditional Japanese celebration of the Harvest Moon.

The Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt by moonlight. The Oakland Fukuoka Sister City Association hosted their 49th annual “Otsukimi” Moon-Viewing Festival on Sunday night.

Around 200 people came together at Lake Merritt’s Lakeside Park Garden Center for the 49th annual Otsukimi Moon Viewing Festival. After an indoor program that included martial arts demonstrations and Japanese drums, festival-goers walked to the lake to join astronomers and observe the powerful October new moon.

The festival is organized by the Oakland Fukuoka Sister City Association, which aims to promote “cultural awareness, understanding, and friendship” between Oakland and Fukuoka, according to the festival organizers. “The harvest moon is a symbol of blessing and abundance for many cultures, including Japan,” wrote the organizers on the event website. “The moon viewing parties are occasions for sharing food and stories, while enjoying what is considered the most beautiful moon of the year.”

Students of Nishi Kaigan Iaido Dojo demonstrate the traditional Japanese martial art of Iaido, known for its use of long swords.

Student delegates shared their experiences studying abroad in Fukuoka in an exchange program organized by the Asian Pacific Children’s Convention. Up next was a demonstration from Nishi Kaigan Iaido Dojo, a Berkeley-based martial arts school teaches iaido, a traditional Japanese martial art known for using long swords. The program closed with a spirited performance by drumming group Diablo Taiko, who brought the crowd to their feet with a participatory call-and-response number.

Members of drumming group Diablo Taiko performed at the 49th annual “Otsukimi” Moon Viewing Festival in Oakland on Sunday night.

After dark, the crowd then walked towards Lake Merritt, guided down a path illuminated only by glowsticks. They were met by members of the East Bay Astronomical Society, a group of astro-enthusiasts who were standing beside their telescopes and with binoculars, ready to show off craters and moon rays to the group.

Telescopes and binoculars were provided by the East Bay Astronominal Society.

“We come out and support it with our telescopes so after the performance folks can come out here and look at the moon,” said Gerald McKeegan, a coordinator for the East Bay Astronomical Society. “People are mostly surprised to see the craters. It’s really amazing to see that there really are holes all over the moon.”

Festival-goers observed the moon and stars with help from members of the East Bay Astronomical Society.

Originally published at oaklandnorth.net on October 27, 2015.