Saturday, 7 July 2012

Tanabata: Star Festival 七夕

In Japan, things tend to be ordered from large to small; general to specific. You give your name family name first then given name. You write your address from prefecture to street number. In Australia we do the opposite: Street number to state, given name then family. Likewise Australian dates are the exact reverse of Japanese dates. Australians write day/month/year and Japanese write year/month/day. There’s a consistency in the thought processes that leads to these ways of writing dates. Why on earth Americans write month/day/year I have no idea. But then, I also have no idea why they say “I could care less” not “I COULDN’T case less.” Anyway, this does have something to do with Tanabata, I promise. Tanabata is celebrated on July seventh, which is 7/7 no matter which system one uses to write dates. Tanabata is not a public holiday, but we do get “star jelly” in school lunch to celebrate it. 

Tanabata Desert

 The Story of Tanabata

According to wikipedia
Orihime (織姫 Weaving Princess), daughter of the Tentei (天帝 Sky King, or the universe itself), wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the Amanogawa (天の川 Milky Way, lit. "heavenly river"). 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 (彦星 Cow Herder Star) (also referred to as Kengyuu (牽牛)) 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.
Long long ago, when we first came to Kyushu my husband worked in a highly academic English language pre-school (yes, there are academic pre-schools). He was tasked with writing the script for a Tanabata play, using concepts and vocabulary appropriate for children as young as three. The preschool version has Tentei getting cross because Orihime and Hikoboshi kept sneaking off to have picnics together instead of doing their chores (^_^)


Read the manga, watch the anime, listen to the tribute CDs... but stay away from the live action movie

Tanabata is deeply intertwined in my brain with Yazawa Ai’s manga “NANA”, about two girls named Nana (which is also the pronunciation of the number seven in Japanese: the part of 七夕) who meet on the train to Tokyo and end up sharing an apartment (number 707) together. Tanabata (7/7) has a special significance that becomes increasingly tragic throughout the manga.

Tree of Wishes

Wish Tree
For Tanabata, the tradition is to set up a leafy bamboo branch and decorate it using long pieces of paper with wishes written on them. Traditionally at the end of the celebrations the branch is thrown into a stream to carry the wishes away… but these days the whole thing usually goes in the burnable garbage. Don’t worry though, the smoke probably rises up to the stars (and gives Orihime asthma).
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  1. I still remember our little tree at Proxy :)
    I really need to get around to watching Nana, I think I've watched the first few episodes at least 5 times but then something comes up and I don't watch for a while then have to start over.
    But I'm sure you could care less about it :P
    Posted on 7/9/2012 :P again

  2. Hehe, now that you've thought about it you must realise that it makes no sense, right? I'm not trying to say that everything Australians say makes sense either, or course:
    You MUST read/watch Nana, it is sooo good! Except the author has been ill and stopped writing it right in the middle of a huge dramatic event :(

    1. But I also realized that when I date my files on my PC I do them Y/M/D since it's easier to find them once organized... so I do see that as being a more efficient dating system sometimes.

  3. The Tanabata story actually originated from the Chinese. To us it's the Chinese version of Valentines Day but but we don't do anything special on that day. I like how the Japanese have the tradition of writing their wishes and tying it to the beautifully decorated trees!

    1. Ahh, that makes a lot of sense. I couldn't imagine cow herding was particularly common occupation in ancient Japan!


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