Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Star Festival

Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess named Orihime who had a special gift for weaving the most exquisite cloth anyone had ever seen.  Every day she would sit on the banks of the Amano River as her nimble fingers wove gossamer strands that flickered and shimmered in the light.  But her father, the Sky King Tentei was worried that she was too isolated, so he arranged for her to meet a humble (but noble) cow herder named Hikoboshi (sometimes called Ushikai). 

As these stories go, they fell in love at first sight and were married soon after.  But their love was so consuming that they neglected their duties and soon Orihime's loom was collecting dust and Hikoboshi's cows were roaming around unattended.  Despite the king's warnings the lovers were unable to part from each other, so Tentei forcibly separated the couple and forbade them to meet. 

Despondent over her loss, Orihime approached her father in tears, begging him to let her be reunited with her husband.  Tentei's heart was softened enough to allow the two lovers to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month on the condition that Orihime return to her weaving and Hikoboshi to his herds.  The lovers agreed and so, once a year, they are reunited for a passionate, yet tender night.

This is the legend behind the annual event of the star festival, when the stars Vega and Altair come together across the Milky Way.  The festival is called Tanabata in Japan and is celebrated by writing your wishes, sometimes in the form of poetry, on small pieces of paper and then hanging them on branches of bamboo, along with other decorations like origami ornaments.  The effect is something like an oriental Christmas tree and the nostalgic whimsy of it all contributes to how the Japanese define the summer season.  Street festivals can be found in every town with shaved ice, old-fashioned sweets, games for children, hanging lanterns and the colorful bamboo branches filled with wishes - because after all, this is the night when your deepest wish can come true.

So tonight, maybe you and the kiddos can catch a glimpse of the heavenly lovers and then pen a few wishes down: I wish for more patience, more time, more grace, more motivation, more, more more... (I am a greedy one!).  I wish for health for my family and loved ones.  I wish for another child.  I wish for paths of opportunity to be opened to all of us.  I wish!

The bamboo leaves rustle,
shaking away in the eaves.
The stars twinkle;
Gold and silver grains of sand.

1 comment:

christine said...

What a beautiful tradition. I really like it. Gives a whole new meaning to wishing on a star.