05 Sep 2009

Sample Essay: Tanabata Festival:A Love Story of the Stars

For thousands of years, people have associated objects in the sky with the gods and goddesses of their cultures. The Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Sumerians, Maoris, Hindus, North American Navajo and Pawnee Indians, and the Mesoamerican Mayans and Aztecs are just some of the cultures that have associated their fables, folklore and festivals with the heavens and the stars. The Japanese are no exception and likewise celebrate Tanabata, ,meaning “Evening of the Seventh”, which is a Japanese star festival. It celebrates the meeting of Orihime (the star Vega) and Hikoboshi (the star Altair), lovers separated by the Milky Way, a river made from stars that crosses the sky, and allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunisolar calendar. The Tanabata festival is a traditional celebration held as a tribute to love and is held in the evening since the stars come out only at night.

The Tanabata festival actually originated from the Chinese star festival Qi Xi which was celebrated in China. Although there have been several variations to the story, basically it recounts the love story of Orihime,, daughter of Tenkou the Sky King, who wove beautiful cloth by the bank of Amanogawa, the River of Heaven. Orihime knew that her father loved the cloth so she worked very hard every day to weave it. But she was sad because she felt could never meet and fall in love with anyone because of her hard work. Seeing his daughter’s sadness, Tenkou arranged a meeting with Hikoboshi, a cow herder who lived and worked on the other side of the Amanogawa. Orihime and Hikoboshi fell instantly in love with each other and were shortly married. However, after marriage, Orihime no longer weaved cloth for Tenkou and Hikoboshi’s cows strayed all over Heaven. This angered Tenkou, prompting him to separate the two lovers across the Amanogawa. Orihime became very sad and begged her father to let her be with her husband again. Moved by his daughter’s tears, Tenkou finally allowed the two to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month but only if Orihime returned to her weaving. However, the first time they tried to meet, they could not cross the river because there was no bridge. Orihime cried so much that a flock of celestial magpies came and promised to make a bridge with their wings so that she could cross the river and the two lovers could renew their pledge of love.

Large-scale Tanabata festivals are held in many places in Japan, the most famous of which is held in Sendai from August 5 to August 8. In the Kanto area, the biggest Tanabata festival is celebrated in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa for a few days around July 7. Large colorful streamers and sasa-kazari, or bamboo-decoration, can be seen all around. People decorate branches of a cut bamboo with strips of paper, called tanzaku, on which they write poems or proverbs, and colored threads likewise adorn the bamboo branches. People chant a traditional song (also called “Tanabata”) and summer vegetables such as eggplant and cucumbers are prepared as dishes during the festival.

During the late-evening hours, one can see what is called the “Summer Triangle”, a remarkable star pattern of the summer sky consisting of three bright stars from three constellations. The brightest of the three is Vega in the constellation of Lyra. Next is Altair in Aquila, and third is Deneb in Cygnus. One will also notice a great black rift dividing the Milky Way into two streams, beginning with Cygnus and extending down toward the south. In reality, many stories, myths and legends have been told about the Milky Way in many different cultures, but the love story of Orihime and Hikoboshi still remains the most poignant one of all.

Works Cited

Doorstep Astronomy – See the Summer Triange. 6 July 2007. Space.com. 4 May 2008 <http://www.space.com/spacewatch/070706_ns_summer_triangle.html>.

Orihime, Kengyuu, and Tanabata: Adapting Chinese Lore to Native Beliefs and Purposes. 2007. Mythic Passages the Magazine of Imagination. 4 May 2008 <http://www.mythicjourneys.org/newsletter_jul07_renshaw.html>.

Tanabata. 3 May 2008. Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia. 4 May 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanabata>.

Tanabata (Star Festival) – July 7. 5 March 2002. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 4 May 2008 <http://web.mit.edu/jpnet/holidays/Jul/tanabata.shtml>.

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