Tanabata Spirit Displayed with Streamers
It's almost that time of year again for most of the people in Japan.
Children and adults alike are preparing for the Tanabata Festival on July 7th, one of the biggest festivals of the year. Streamers are now being hung in the streets and decorations are being added. People celebrate by writing their wishes on colorful, small strips of paper (tanzaku papers) and hanging them on bamboo branches. These are then decorated with colorful paper and designs and placed outside homes. Streamers are the most common Tanabata decorations, symbolizing the weaving of threads. Other decorations are casting net (toami), which indicates good luck for fishing and farming and handbag (kinchaku), which means wealth.
Many cities and towns hold their own tanabata celebrations and have Tanabata displays. Main streets are usually decorated and filled with streamers. Some regions also celebrate by sending floating laterns or bamboo leaves down rivers.
Tanabata is based on an old Chinese tale called Kikkoden, and orginated more than 2,000 years ago.
An ancient Chinese tale about the stars Altair and Vega, high overhead in the summer night sky, and the Milky Way that separates them, and how this came to pass.
There once was a brave young Shepherd named Altair, and a princess, the Weaver-girl Vega, who so loved each other they neglected their work. This angered the Emperor of the Heavens, who separated them by a river, the Milky Way, where on only one night each year, July 7th, a magical bridge is formed on the wings of Magpies and the two are allowed to cross and be together. If it rains on the night of July 7th, it is said that the river overflows and they cannot meet again until next year.
There are many variations of this story. When I first heard it, the story was in Chinese. Altair was called niú láng (牛郎) and the weaver Vega was called zhī nǚ (織女). Tanabata festival in Chinese is called qī jiě dàn (七姐誕), and it is the Chinese equivalent of Valentine's Day. When I first heard it in Japanese, the weaver princess was named Orihime and the cow herder prince was named Hikoboshi. Nonetheless, whether it's Tanabata or Qī Jiě Dàn, it is a time of celebration for children and adults and a truly romantic time of year for young adults.
I look forward to seeing the colorful displays and hearing about the festivals.