The Moon rabbit in folklore is a rabbit that lives on the moon, based on pareidolia that identifies the markings of the moon as a rabbit. The story exists in many cultures, particularly in Aztec mythology and East Asian folklore, where it is seen pounding in a mortar and pestle. In Chinese folklore, it is often portrayed as a companion of the moon goddess Chang’e, constantly pounding the elixir of life for her; but in Japanese and Korean versions, it is just pounding the ingredients for rice cake.
An early mention that there is a rabbit on the moon appears in the Chu Ci, a Western Han anthology of Chinese poems from the Warring States period, which notes that along with a toad, there is a rabbit on the moon who constantly pounds herbs for the immortals. This notion is supported by later texts, including the Imperial Readings of the Taiping Era encyclopedia of the Song Dynasty. Han Dynasty poets call the rabbit on the moon the “Jade Rabbit” (玉兔) or the “Gold Rabbit” (金兔), and these phrases were often used in place of the word for the moon. A famous poet of the Tang Dynasty period, Li Bai, relates how: “The rabbit in the moon pounds the medicine in vain” in his poem “The Old Dust.”