August 13th marks Tanabata in Japan, or in English “Evening of the Seventh”. Originally, this was part of the Chinese Qixi Festival that celebrates the annuel meeting of the cowherd and the weaver girl in Chinese mythology. This day falls on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month. In Japan, this day celebrates the meeting of Orihime and Hikoboshi, two deities represented by two stars. According to legend, the Milky Way separates these lovers and are only allowed to meet once a year.
[photo via zerochan]
The Chinese folklore, “The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd” goes like this:
Orihime daughter of the Tentei wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the Amanogawa. Her father loved the cloth that she wove and so she worked very hard every day to weave it. However, Orihime was sad that because of her hard work she could never meet and fall in love with anyone. Concerned about his daughter, Tentei arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi who lived and worked on the other side of the Amanogawa. When the two met, they fell instantly in love with each other and married shortly thereafter. However, once married, Orihime no longer would weave cloth for Tentei and Hikoboshi allowed his cows to stray all over Heaven. In anger, Tentei separated the two lovers across the Amanogawa and forbade them to meet. Orihime became despondent at the loss of her husband and asked her father to let them meet again. Tentei was moved by his daughter’s tears and allowed the two to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month if she worked hard and finished her weaving. The first time they tried to meet, however, they found that they could not cross the river because there was no bridge. Orihime cried so much that a flock of magpies came and promised to make a bridge with their wings so that she could cross the river. It is said that if it rains on Tanabata, the magpies cannot come and the two lovers must wait until another year to meet.
[photo via Nikkei Place]
Popular customs vary by location in Japan, but in general girls wish for better sewing skills and craftsmanship and boys wish for improved handwriting. The boys would make ink from dew left on taro leaves to write their wishes on pieces of paper. Those pieces of paper are sometime hung on a Wish Tree or bamboo. After the festival, the wishes are set onto a river and burned. The traditional Tanabata song lyrics are, “The bamboo leaves rustle, shaking away in the eaves. The stars twinkle on the gold and silver grains of sand. The five-color paper strips, I have already written. The stars twinkle, they watch us from heaven.”
[photo via muza-chan]
Throughout Japan malls and streets are decorated with large colorful streamers. The most famous festival is held in Sendai and hosts an array of decorating competitions, parades and Miss Tanabata contests. Tokyo Disneyland also has a Tanabata celebration where Mickey and Minnie are Hikoboshi and Orihime. It sounds like a lot of fun, and we’re totally into it!