K Tradition

Rabbits in Korean Mythology: The Daltokki

All over East Asia, you can find myths of rabbits on the moon, creating yummy desserts. However, this is the story of the Korean Daltokki.

Introduction

In this rabbit year, let’s go through one of the most popular folktales about Rabbits in Korea: The Legend of the Moon Rabbit. This mythology comes into mind whenever the season of Chuseok approaches. This folktale, stemming from Buddhist influence, is often told around harvest time. It is believed that the fullest and brightest moon appears during Chuseok, symbolizing prosperity.

In Chinese folklore, the rabbit is often portrayed as a companion of the Moon goddess Chang’e, constantly pounding the elixir of life for her and some versions show the making of moon cakes. However, the Japanese and Korean versions of the myth are quite different. Instead of the goddess, a rabbit is pounding the ingredients for mochi or some other type of rice cake.

The Legend of the Daltokki

There once was a village where there lived a rabbit, a fox, and a monkey who often played together. One day, the Great Emperor in the Heavens decided to test the animals’ loyalty to him. He came down from the sky disguised as a beggar and asked the animals each to bring him something to eat.

The three generous animals instantly set out to honor the poor man’s request. The fox returned to the beggar with a fish; likewise, the monkey with some fruit. The rabbit, being a small and more limited animal, unfortunately, was only able to bring back the grass he could gather. Ashamed at his feeble offering, the rabbit, in an act of self-sacrifice, proceeded to ignite the grass he’d gathered and threw himself into the flames to be eaten by the beggar as a meal.

The action of the rabbit so touched the beggar emperor that he placed the rabbit on the moon to become its guardian and surrounded him with smoke as a reminder to all of the rabbit’s noble death. Thus was born the Legend of the Moon Rabbit to be told for centuries to come.

The Moral of the Story

The rabbit is a significant symbol within Korea because of this touching folktale. Rabbits are said to be symbols of fertility, complementing Chuseok’s purpose of making supplications for a bountiful harvest.

Longevity is something most of us long for, especially when surrounded by those dearest to us during the holiday season. The rice cake, which the rabbit appears to be making beneath the tree (sometimes the tales include two rabbits, reminding us of coming together with our families and preparing food for the holidays) is also a symbol in that rice cake is a Korean food staple or an “essence of life,” another theme of the abundance of harvest.

Want to learn a little more about Korean mythology? Click Here to read about Korea’s deadliest monster, the Bulgasal.

🇻🇳 Wendy

I am not old but for some reasons, i feel old. Twenty two but hard-working :)