Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Happy Star festival

Here in Japan the Seventh day of the seventh month is an important day, and we were going to be damned if we didn't also participate. Two stars known as Orihime and Hikoboshi meet across the milky way but are divided by the star chain. On the seventh the two contact each other from our view and ancient Chinese scholars believed that our wishes would be heard by the stars on this night. Orihime is viewed as a silk weaver who plies her work along the banks of a rushing river (the milky way) which was a lonely existence. Her father takes pity on her and introduces her to a lonely cowherder named Hikoboshi who lives on the other side of the river. Their love was intense and they soon forgot to tend their cows and silk, neglecting their duties for a time. In the story Orihime's father grows angry and separates the two forbidding them to meet....except on the night of the seventh when flights of birds make a bridge for their meeting.

Now this is a really special tale of the stars movements and the celebration is quite interesting to go along with it. In present-day Japan, people generally celebrate this day by writing wishes, sometimes in the form of poetry, on tanzaku (短冊 tanzaku), small pieces of origami paper, and hanging them on bamboo, sometimes with other decorations.
The bamboo and decorations are often set afloat on a river or burned after the festival, around midnight or on the next day. So we had our classes participate in writing English wishes and decorating branches of bamboo to take home for that night. It was interesting that most wished to be great soccer players or other funny skills like flying and climbing trees well. The cutest wish was one of Jackie's students who wished for his "baby" to grow big and strong and that his parents would be happy.

We made our own Tanzaku and brought them up to the country and burned them in the traditional manner, although we did it a couple days late, the burning part, so we are not sure our wishes will be heard. It is really neat to see the fusion of Chinese festivities with the native Japanese take on them, truly an interesting cultural experience. And what were our wishes?....To find good land to build a house on, to get into law school, to make many high quality birch canoes and that the people would succeed.

Happy Tanabata!

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