07 Jul 2016 Comments Off on Tanabata: A Day for Lovers
Each year in Japan, on the seventh day of the seventh month, they celebrate the festival of Tanabata. It’s my favorite Japanese festival, and certainly the most romantic. The Japanese version of Tanabata is based on the Chinese tale of a handsome young cowherd and a beautiful weaver.
This beautiful illustration is just one of many from my favorite Tanabata book titled The Seventh Sister, A Chinese Legend, retold by Cindy Chang and illustrated by Charles Reasoner. Follow this link to order from Amazon.com.
As the story goes, each night the celestial maiden and her beautiful sisters weave the starry tapestry of the night sky; and each day the seven sisters come down to earth to bathe in a pond near the cowherd’s pasture. One day, the cowherd spies the celestial maiden, and while she bathes, he steals the magical robe that gives her the power to fly. When the sisters finish bathing, they take to the skies again, and the celestial maiden is left behind. When the young cowherd comes to her rescue, the maiden is sad because she cannot return home, but she stays with the cowherd and soon falls in love with him.
Over time however, they realize that the sun no longer sets, and there is no nighttime for rest and sleep because the maiden is not there to help her sisters weave the tapestry of the night sky. It is then that the cowherd confesses the theft of her robe, and the maiden knows that she must bid her lover goodbye and return to her home in the sky.
But the maiden is so sad that, as she works her shuttle, her tears fall on the tapestry, each one creating a twinkling star. Over time, she cries so many tears that they become a river of stars. Meanwhile, back on earth the cowherd too is sad. However, a kindly magpie takes pity on him, and once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, the magpie enlists the aid of his flock to create a bridge of wings across the river of stars so that the two lovers can be together for one special night.
In the night sky, you can see the two lovers, Orihime the weaver, and Hikoboshi the cowherd, as two bright stars, Vega and Altair, separated by the starry river of the Milky Way. And every year, on the seventh of July, the Japanese celebrate Tanabata, which means Seven Evenings, by decorating the streets with pink streamers tied to the ends of long bamboo poles. The whole city turns pink with them, and lovers write special prayers on tiny pieces of paper and tie them to the streamers in hopes that they will be carried up to heaven where their wishes will be granted by the gods. It’s a tale and a celebration of romance quite unlike any other.