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New Year's Celebration at the Tokyo National Museum
The Year of the Rabbit

  • Image of "Large Dish with Rabbits and PondweedImari ware, Edo period, 19th century (Gift of Dr. Hirano Kōsuke)"

    Large Dish with Rabbits and Pondweed
    Imari ware, Edo period, 19th century (Gift of Dr. Hirano Kōsuke)

    Japanese Archaeology and Special Exhibition (Heiseikan) Thematic Exhibition Room
    January 2, 2023 (Mon) - January 29, 2023 (Sun)

    2023 is the Year of the Rabbit. Rabbits have been a part of people’s lives for a long time, both as pets and as game animals.

    This exhibition explores the deep connections between rabbits and humans through five themes and dozens of artworks from Japan and other parts of East Asia.

    We hope you enjoy the diverse shapes of these artworks as we jump into the New Year.

Highlights of the Exhibition

All about Rabbits

This gallery presents creative rabbit-themed artworks. Some of these artworks are shaped like rabbits while others incorporate this furry critter into their patterns. Without a doubt, this year’s star animal is the rabbit!

The Museum's Album of Beasts
Compiled by the Museum Bureau, Meiji era, 19th century


The Rabbit in the Moon

The legend of a rabbit living on the moon originated in ancient China and spread throughout East Asia. For a long time, people believed that a rabbit and a toad live on the moon together with a katsura tree. These two animals and the tree became symbols of the moon. Later, it became customary to depict rabbits together with the moon in art.

Bronze Mirror with the Moon Palace
China, Tang dynasty, 8th century


Rabbits Running over Waves

In Japan, designs that show rabbits jumping over waves have been popular for hundreds of years. They were especially popular in the Edo period (1603–1868). These designs probably originated in a noh play. Because water reflects the moon, the idea of “the rabbit in the moon” developed into “rabbits running over waves.” Rabbits also became symbols of fire prevention because of their connection with water.

Fire-Resistant Wear with a Rabbit, Waves, and Rain Dragon
Edo period, 19th century (Gift of Mrs. Henry)


Where are the Rabbits?

Rabbits can hide in unexpected places, and can be difficult to find in art. They might be hidden among other animals or inside a basket. They could also be on the underside of a box’s lid or hidden in a pattern. Let’s take a look around and see if we can find these sneaky rabbits.


Writing Box with a Bean Plant and Rabbit
Attributed to Nagata Yūji, Edo period, 19th century


People and Rabbits

Rabbits and people have a long history together. The rabbit became one of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac about 2,300 years ago. Rabbits were also personified at times, and their fur was used to make brushes for writing and painting. There are even bowls that have “rabbit-fur” glazes. These are just some of the ways in which rabbits were a part of people’s everyday lives.

Celebration: Story for the Year of the Rabbit
By Renchidō, Meiji period, 1872




New Year's Celebration at the Tokyo National Museum
The Year of the Rabbit

This pamphlet is also available at the information desk in the Heiseikan during the exhibition period.