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."
The mythological white hare making the elixir of immortality on the Moon, from Chinese mythology. Embroidered onto 18th-century Imperial Chinese robes.
In the Buddhist Śaśajâtaka (Jataka Tale 316), a monkey, an otter, a jackal, and a rabbit resolved to practice charity on the day of the full Moon (Uposatha), believing a demonstration of great virtue would earn a great reward.
When an old man begged for food, the monkey gathered fruits from the trees and the otter collected fish, while the jackal wrongfully pilfered a lizard and a pot of milk-curd. The rabbit, who knew only how to gather grass, instead offered its own body, throwing itself into a fire the man had built. The rabbit, however, was not burnt. The old man revealed himself to be Śakra and, touched by the rabbit's virtue, drew the likeness of the rabbit on the Moon for all to see. It is said the lunar image is still draped in the smoke that rose when the rabbit cast itself into the fire.
A version of this story can be found in the Japanese anthology Konjaku Monogatarishū, where the rabbit's companions are a fox and a monkey.
Similar legends occur in Mexican folklore, where people also identified the markings on the Moon as a rabbit. According to an Aztec legend, the god Quetzalcoatl, then living on Earth as a man, started on a journey and, after walking for a long time, became hungry and tired. With no food or water around, he thought he would die. Then a rabbit grazing nearby offered herself as food to save his life. Quetzalcoatl, moved by the rabbit's noble offering, elevated her to the Moon, then lowered her back to Earth and told her, "You may be just a rabbit, but everyone will remember you; there is your image in light, for all people and for all times."
Another Mesoamerican legend tells of the brave and noble sacrifice of Nanahuatzin during the creation of the fifth sun. Humble Nanahuatzin sacrificed himself in fire to become the new sun, but the wealthy god Tecciztecatl hesitated four times before he finally set himself alight to become the Moon. Due to Tecciztecatl's cowardice, the gods felt that the Moon should not be as bright as the sun, so one of the gods threw a rabbit at his face to diminish his light. It is also said that Tecciztecatl was in the form of a rabbit when he sacrificed himself to become the Moon, casting his shadow there.
A Native American (Cree) legend tells a different variation, about a young rabbit who wished to ride the Moon. Only the crane was willing to take him. The trip stretched Crane's legs as the heavy rabbit held them tightly, leaving them elongated as cranes' legs are now. When they reached the Moon Rabbit touched Crane's head with a bleeding paw, leaving the red mark cranes wear to this day. According to the legend, on clear nights, Rabbit can still be seen riding the Moon.
The Chinese lunar rover Yutu, which landed on the Moon on December 14, 2013, was named after the Jade Rabbit as a result of an online poll.
The Moon rabbit was mentioned in this conversation between Houston and the Apollo 11 crew just before the first Moon landing in 1969:
Houston: Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, there's one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-o has been living there for 4000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.
In the Dragon Ball episode "Boss Rabbit's Magic Touch" ("Usagi Oyabun no Tokui Waza" (うさぎオヤブンの得意技), Goku exiles Monster Carrot and his henchmen to the Moon, where they are shown pounding on rice cakes.
Usagi Tsukino (in Japanese, Tsuki no Usagi: "the Moon's rabbit" although the "no" in "Tsukino" is written with a different character and hence has a different meaning: "Moon field") from the 1991–1997 manga series Sailor Moon is named after the legend.
In the visual novel Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward, the AI that controls the lunar research station in which the game is set takes the form of a rabbit, in reference to this legend and foreshadowing the game's true location.
The rabbit in the Moon is a major theme in the 2011 musical South Street, with the rabbit appearing prominently in the Moon clock in Sammy's bar, and the main character being advised to "Look to the rabbit" for inspiration.