A few months after our two year old started hoikuen in Kyoto, she was sent home with a leafy bamboo branch tied with various paper decorations she’d spent most of June making. They included shooting stars, watermelon, kimono and even a rocket ship. Dazzled, but baffled, I didn’t know what it commemorated until an evening out with friends to Kyo no Tanabata -七夕 – the Tanabata Star Festival.
Tanabata (meaning ‘evening of the seventh’) is a traditional Japanese event which originated from the Chinese Qixi Festival. The festival was imported to Japan by the Empress Kōken in 755 during the Nara period (646-794). Once a year, the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi (represented by the stars Vega and Altair respectively) are believed to cross the Milky Way and meet after being separated by Orihime’s father, Tentei (天帝), the Sky King.
During Tanabata, bamboo branches are decorated with ornaments such as kushidama, large paper balls with long streamers, representing the strings Orihime uses to weave clothes for her father. Other decorations represent different blessings. Colourful strips of paper called Tanzuku also adorn the bamboo and it’s said that if you write a wish on one of these pieces of paper, your wish will come to pass.
As the legend goes, when Orihime, a tireless but lonely seamstress, was introduced by her father to Hikoboshi, a cow-herder they fell so deeply in love that each began neglecting their work. For this they were punished when Tentei created a mighty river, the Amanogawa (天の川) – the Milky Way – permanently separating the two lovers.
Art by 50u1 http://50u1.deviantart.com/art/Orihime-and-Hikoboshi-251844848
Orihime’s grief eventually softened her father’s resolve and he allowed them to meet one Summer evening a year. However, if it rains or the sky is cloudy, the river becomes impossible to cross and the two lovers have to wait another year. The end of the festival is marked by sending the decorations downstream or burning them.
In the lead up to Tanabata this year, our kids have been busy at their hoikuen making ornaments and practising the Tanabata song that our four year old sings on the way home:
Sasa no ha sara-sara
The bamboo leaves rustle
Nokiba ni yureru
shaking away in the eaves
The stars twinkle
on the gold and silver grains of sand
workaholic SAHM with a possible touch of ADD.
Favorite question: Free time? What's that??
Days are spent: raising 4 children, teaching part time, developing a jewelry business (http://facebook.com/offonawhim), and following the lives of the KA Moms! Cooking, cleaning and shopping are all secondary.