Photo/IllutrationThe full moon shines behind a Ferris wheel at Odaiba district in Tokyo's Koto ward on Sep. 24, 2018. (Shiro Nishihata)

Around this time of year, the moon seems to glow brighter every night.

In Japan, we "see" in the moon a rabbit pounding "mochi" rice cake in a mortar with a mallet.

But people of other races and cultures around the world see different things in the moon. Among typical examples of lunar pareidolia, as such images are called, are a giant crab, a roaring lion and an old woman reading a book.

But even to the Japanese moon gazer, the rabbit takes on a different shape depending on the latitude from which it is seen.

Tetsuro Ojio, 50, a curator at the Nagoya City Science Museum who has made two observation trips to Antarctica, noted: "The lunar rabbit I saw from the South Pole was lying on its back. It certainly didn't look like it was pounding mochi."

A photo he took from "Shirase," a Japanese icebreaker for Antarctic research expeditions, shows the reddish brown moon beyond a pristine white iceberg, presenting a fantastic contrast with the violet sky above.

Also, the moon's shape is warped in a mirage, quite unlike anything ever seen from Japan.

An object to be only gazed from afar until recently, the moon has lately come under close scrutiny amid a flurry of lunar missions.

Following China's successful lunar probe six years ago, the countdown is now on for the Sept. 7 landing of an Indian probe on the south pole of the moon. If successful, India will be the fourth nation to reach the moon, after the former Soviet Union, the United States and China.

There is an old Indian folktale which could be the source from which the "rabbit in the moon" imagery sprang.

A rabbit, saddened that it had no food to offer to a hungry monk, throws itself into a bonfire so the monk could eat. But the monk happened to be a god, who celebrated the rabbit's admirable sacrifice by etching its image on the moon's surface.

The moon seems to have the mysterious power to fire the imagination of humans of all cultures throughout history.

Are there resources on the moon to sustain human life? I wonder what new knowledge we will learn from lunar explorations in the days ahead.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 7

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.