The Hare "Usagi" as a motif in Japanese art

Posted on | June 17, 2010 | 1 Comment

There is an old Chinese–Taoist tale of a hare that resides in the moon and pounds magic herbs to make the elixir of eternal life. The hare was considered sacred and was believed to live a thousand years, becoming white only when it had reached the end of its first five hundred years. This belief was assimilated by the Japanese who see the hare in the moon pounding mochi (rice cakes) instead of magic herbs.

Because the moon is deemed to shine its brightest in autumn, the full moon and hare motif has also become associated with autumn in Japanese art. Aki no nana kusa, the seven grasses of autumn, often appear with the rabbit in the moon and have provided a motif for Japanese art since the Nara Era (710-794). The seven grasses are kikyo (purple Chinese bell flowers), hagi (Japanese bush clover), susuki (Japanese pampas grass), kuzu (millet), nadeskiko (fringed pink flowers), fujibakama (boneset), and ominaeshi, which resembles Queen Anne’s lace.

Another hare motif that is commonly seen in Japanese art is the hare and ocean wave motif. This unusual combination originated from a story in the Kojiki (Japan’s oldest history book) called “Inaba no Shirousagi,” or the “White Rabbit of Inaba” (present day Shimane prefecture). According to the legend, a white rabbit crossed the ocean from Okino Island to the mainland at Inaba by using the backs of sharks as stepping stones and thus appeared to be running over the tops of the waves. This story became the theme of a Noh song that translates roughly, “While the moon floats over the ocean, a rabbit runs over the waves; what interesting island scenery.”

Rabbits, Moon, and Waves

Rabbits, Autumn Moon, and Fall Flowers

Rabbits, Moon, and Autumn Grasses


One Response to “The Hare "Usagi" as a motif in Japanese art”

  1. Yasue Sakaoka
    June 22nd, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

    thank you for the article.I am reserching on Japanese animals.

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