The Moon Through the Clouds: Mozart over the Tsugaru Strait


Standing at the peak of Mount Hakodate, I gaze at the Shimokita Peninsula across the Tsugaru Strait in Aomori. When I raise my eyes to the clear night sky, I see the rising full moon.

Full moon over the Tsugaru Strait. (2008)
Full moon over the Tsugaru Strait. (2008)

If that moon were music by Mozart, it would be the first movement, Allegro, from his Piano Concerto no 27. Beauty in full bloom.

As I watch, strands of clouds dance across the face of the moon, concealing and revealing its glow in turn.

The moon through clouds over a calm Tsugaru Strait with fishing fires. (2008)
The moon through clouds over a calm Tsugaru Strait with fishing fires. (2008)

“Even the moon is unpleasant unless seen through clouds”—thus asserted Murata Jukō, the fifteenth-century tea master and originator of the Japanese-style tea ceremony. For Jukō, moonlight filtered through swirling cloud inspired more emotion than the bright silver disc in full. In both the tea ceremony and the night sky, dazzling perfection paled before the beauty of the imperfect and incomplete.

Wreathed in clouds, the moon embodies the Larghetto, my favorite movement of Mozart’s concerto. Vienna-born pianist Ingrid Haebler, one of Mozart’s most respected interpreters, plays this movement with lucid, lyrical beauty. The music shimmers and ripples like moonlight glinting on the becalmed strait.

In the morning, sunlight pours through morning cloud cover to make the waters of the strait shine. This is the enchanting charm of the third movement, another Allegro.

Mozart spent his final years in penury, begging for his family’s daily bread as he and his wife struggled with their respective illnesses. And yet, even in these dire circumstances, he was able to create the masterpiece that is his twenty-seventh piano concerto. Some call it a work composed at heaven’s gates.

The morning sun through clouds at Ōmori Beach. (2008)
The morning sun through clouds at Ōmori Beach. (2008)

Summit of Mount Hakodate

Getting there: Hakodate Mountain Ropeway, Sanchō Station. The Mount Hakodate summit observation deck is directly adjacent.

(Click to see map)

(Originally published in Japanese.)

tourism Hokkaidō Hakodate photography Northern Japan in Black and White