During the summer time everyone is awaiting for hot days, fresh nights and clear skies. And of course we wouldn’t want it to be ruined by rain clouds. This is a major preoccupation on a very special day in August, and especially in Japan. Every year, on the 7th day of this month are held hundreds of small festivals all around this country. The ocassion is no other than the Tanabata Festival, the most anticipated celebration, not only by lovers, but also by lots of people awaiting to dust off their ‘yukata’, a traditional kind of kimono made of beautiful designs and light fabrics. The crowds gather in the late evening around lines of street vendors and games, to later finish the night with a fireworks show.
But there is a reason for this millenarian tradition, and it’s all about a legend that takes place before the stars set on the heavens, and was also inspired by the famous Chinese folklore, The Princess and the Cowherd. Orihime, the Weaving Princess, daughter of Tentei, King of the Skies and the Universe, used to weave beautiful clothes by the bank of the Amanogawa, the Heavenly River. King Tentei loved each and every cloth his daughter wove for him, so she spent all her days truly dedicated to weaving them. But Orihime’s father was really worried about her working so hard and having no time to find someone to fall in love with, so he arranged a meeting between her and Hikoboshi, the Cow Herder Star, who lived and worked at the other side of the Amanogawa. They fell in love at first sight and married shortly thereafter. But once the princess got married, she stopped weaving, and Hikoboshi wasn’t taking care of his herd, it was straying all over the Heavens. Tentei’s clothes started to wear out, and there weren’t any good cows anymore, so the King, in anger, separated these two lovers with the Amanogawa in between and forbade them to meet. They were really depressed and wouldn’t work, so Tentei, moved by his daughter’s tears, decided he’d let them meet once a year on the 7th day of the 7th month only if she worked hard and finished her weaving. However, the first time they tried to meet there was no bridge to cross the river, and Orihime cried so much that a magpie appeared and promissed to make a bridge with all its flock’s wings. But if it rained that day they wouldn’t be able to fly and be there.
Tanabata actually means “The Night of Sevens”, and it’s related to the Chinese festival QiXi. Japan and many Eastern cultures are ruled by the lunisolar calendar so, on the seventh day of the seventh month in the solar calendar takes place during August. Through the years it’s been set to be celebrated on August 7th, while in China it’s on July 7th, and there the tradition is to plead for skills or get wishes granted by writting them on strings of paper. This last tradition is part of Japanese Tanabata too, and is also accompanied by beautiful decorations made of paper to be admired by the star spirits. Among the chinese small towns it’s well known that girls have to hook a needle with red thread around midnight by the light of only two sticks of incense, this for being able to marry their true love.
Nowadays astronomy has studied and categorized those stars and celestial beings. Orihime is the star of name Vega, Hikoboshi is Altair, and Tentei, Deneb. These three stars conform the ‘Sumer Triangle’, being the brightest stars in the three constellations of Aquila, Cygnus, and Lyra, while the Amanogawa is none other than the Milky Way.
Making wishes upon stars isn’t new, but it’s clear that every year this celabration moves more than one, including those lovers who are truly separated by a river and like star gazing, japanese, chinese or any kind of tradition it may be.