Tanabata: The Yin and Yang of Japanese holidays

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By Wilburn Hansen

On July 7, the Japanese Hoshi Matsuri (star festival) called Tanabata is celebrated. The streets of Hiratsuka in Kanagawa Prefecture will be lined with food carts visited by young women in yukata (traditional summer clothes) and the young men escorting them.

Millions of Japanese people all over Japan will enjoy one of the first festivals of the summer. Children will hang tanzaku (wishes written on strips of paper) on tree branches, and adults will nostalgically recall the summer festivals of their own youths.

If the sky is cloudless, those with romantic inclinations will look expectantly at the sky to see two specific stars on opposite sides of the milky way galaxy.

Star-crossed lovers

Photo: iStock/ Senryu

The legend behind the Japanese star festival is that a herder boy, Hikoboshi, and a weaver girl, Orihime, fell so deeply in love with each other that they neglected their jobs causing great trouble in their respective professions and forcing their superiors to separate them for all but one night of the year. On that specific night the lovers, represented by two actual stars, Altair and Vega, are said to be allowed to approach the heavenly river that separates them to cast longing eyes upon one another, and by doing so, lessen the pain in their lonely hearts.

Variants of this sad love story have been told and celebrated throughout Asia for centuries. Somehow this story, most likely originating in China and first recorded thousands of years ago, has been interpreted as a story of hope and endless fidelity for the most impossible of romantic relationships. In a sense, it teaches the importance of sincerity, constancy of heart, and eternal fidelity. It inscribes this lesson of the importance of love in the natural movement of the stars. In other words, nature reveals the truth and value of true love ‘til death do you part.

The brightest stars in the summer sky

The Shonan Hiratsuka Star Festival in Kanagawa. Photo: iStock/ JianGang Wang

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© GaijinPot

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Such a strange coincidence. My country has a big religious holiday&ethnic holiday on 7July

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