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Tanabata - Star Festival

        Tanabata, or Star Festival, is celebrated either July 7 or August 7, depending on the area of Japan. July 7 is the assigned modern calendar date, but on or about August 7 coincides more with the Lunar calendar. (Legend has it that it is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th month but these "months" differ based on modern or lunar calendar).  It centers around the Cowherd Star (Altair) aligning in the Milky Way with Vegas (the Weaver Star). These stars represent lovers that were separated and allowed only one visit a year with each, when the half-moon that occurs at this time serves as the boat to carry them across the Milky Way to see each other.  And, legend also holds that if the skies are cloudy and the heavens cannot be viewed from earth, neither can the lovers see if the other is waiting on the other side, and are denied their visit for another year.

        The story originates back to one brought into Japan from China in ancient times, as a festival to "Plead for Skills"... one would ask for better weaving, sewing and craftsmanship skills. The tale is about a weaver princess, Orihimie, and cow herder prince called Hikoboshi. They fell in love, and their time with each other caused them to neglected their jobs and responsibilities. Orihimie's father, the king, grew so angry that he prohibited them from seeing each other by placing them each on opposites sides of the Amanogawa River. They were allowed to visit each other once a year. If the day was raining, they could not see each other on the opposite sides of the river to be able to meet up, and had to forgo their visit for that year.

        Today, Tanabata is celebrated by people decorating their yards and doorways with bamboo branches. In old and current times, adults and children, (those in trades and crafts especially), write their wishes and prayers on colored strips of paper (tanzaku) and hang them on the bamboo branches. The branches are usually also decorated with additional paper decorations such as streamers, origami, etc. The streamers all represent the weaver's threads, and Tanabata is especially meaningful to those in textile and needlework craft and trade. Other common decorations are toami, representations of casting nets used in fishing to represent good luck in fishing and farming, and small bags (kinchaku), to wish for wealth.

        Tanabata is usually now a small festival celebrated in schools and homes, but a few areas of Japan are very well known for large, vibrant Tanabata festivals, with fantastic decorations. The Tanabata bamboo branches can easily grow into Tanabata "trees" and become quite impressive sights, both in size and for being very colorful. It can be a carnival-like, fun atmosphere with parades, vendors, and general good fun by all. At the end of the evening, or the next day, the bamboo branches with all of the wishes and prayers are either sent floating down rivers and stream, or burned, to send the wishes and pleas on their way to the gods.

Resources: About.com/japan; web-japan.org; japanvisitor.com


Last updated 11/2013 © 1998 - 2014 G. Thompson/PuffinStuff, Inc.