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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Tanabata Kyoto


tanabata-3Tanabata is the Japanese star festival, which takes place once a year on July 7th. It is the celebration of the "meeting" of two stars: Vega and Altair. Normally separated by the Milky Way, once a year these two lovers come together and meet on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.

According to the Japanese folktale, Orihime (Vega), the weaving princess, worked so hard at making beautiful clothes for her father that she never had time to fall in love. Her father, the sky king Tenko, therefore arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi (Altair), who was a cow herder. It was love at first sight and marriage followed shortly thereafter.

After getting married, however, the besotted Orihime refused to weave, and Hikoboshi let his cows wander all over the Heavens. In fury, Tenko placed the two lovers on opposite sides of the Amanogawa River--the Milky Way--thus preventing them from meeting. Orihime beseeched her father, he relented, and the young lovers were allowed to cross and meet one day a year.

Today the festival is held nationwide. At schools and at home, children welcome this day by writing wishes on small pieces of paper, and then hanging them on bamboo. The largest of the festivals is in Sendai.

tanabata-1In the afternoon, I went over to Kyoto's Kitano Tenmangu Shrine to take in its small version of the festival. There were a few tourists, mainly Chinese-speaking, but for the most part it was local families with their children. Many wore yukata summer robes.

The children sang songs on a stage under a tent as their parents filmed the event or drank beer on the side.

A nearby "shotengai" (high street) had all of its shops decked out with the decorated bamboo. Even the local firehouse had a large piece of bamboo set up in front of its garage doors.

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Japanese Fiction

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