Explaining Tanabata (七夕)

I love Tanabata (七夕)

Tanabata (七夕) is a Japanese holiday celebrated on July 7th where children (and adults who like to act like children) write their wishes on colorful pieces of paper and attach them to bamboo trees. 七 means seven, andmeans evening, therefore the Kanji 七夕together mean “the evening of the 7th. Tanabata is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th month each year.
Picture found at this site
The holiday is fairly un-commercialized, which I found surprising. While out shopping, I saw numerous small bamboo trees inside shops, or just out on the street, with paper, string, and pens nearby that you could use. Ryosuke and I went through and put our wishes on a couple trees throughout Shibuya shops (I figure that’s how wishes work. The more you write it down, the greater the chance it will happen).
The story of Tanabata also strikes a particular chord with me. It is derived from an old Chinese folktale.
Here is a quick summary.
Orihime was a beautiful princess who spent all day weaving gorgeous cloth on the bank of the Milky Way. Everyone loved the cloth she made, but because she worked so hard, she never had time to meet someone and fall in love. So her father introduced her to Hikoboshi, a man who herded cows, in the sky (Keep in mind, this is all happening in the sky, so each of these characters are stars). When the two met, they fell deeply and madly in love. However, as love often does, both of them began to neglect their duties, and instead spent all their time together. Orihime stopped weaving cloth; Hokoboshi’s cows ran amok in heaven. So the father separated the two lovers with the Milky Way. In order to encourage Orihime to weave again, the father promised her that if she did all her work, her and Hikoboshi would be allowed to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month (unless, of course it rains, and then they have to wait until next year). Every year, a flock of birds make a bridge with their wings, so Orihime can cross over the Milky Way to visit her lover boy (hence the rain stops them from meeting. Birds don’t like flying in the rain). It’s a tragic romance.
Picture found at this site
It’s a mildly depressing story, but I can relate. Once you fall in love, it’s hard to concentrate on the old things that used to keep you satisfied. But it’s just a phase (albeit a dangerous phase that some people never break out of) and after a while you settle down into this comfortable co-dependence that allows you to go back and pursue your previous ambitions. I couldn’t help but wonder that if the father just stuck it out and allowed the lovers to get tired of each other, his daughter could have eventually settled into a wonderful, stable relationship.
But it seems like most fairy tales and tragic romances live in the honeymoon period of never-ending bliss. Sometimes it seems easier to give up everything you own for a lover your barely know then spend the rest of your life actually getting to know them and learning to live with their beautiful, wonderful imperfections.
But enough about that.
I promised myself I wasn’t going to get to “talkative” about emotions during these posts.
So if Tanabata strikes a similar chord with you, if you happen to be in Japan on the 7th of July, or if you just like making wishes, here is a step-by-step guide to doing Tanabata correctly. It’s only two steps, so it seems silly writing it out, but I wanted to write about Tanabata so badly, and I promised I would only do step-by-step guides to Japan.
So here is a quick guide on how to “do” Tanabata. 
1. Find a Tanabata tree. If you can’t find one, make one. A Tanabata tree isn’t really a bamboo “tree”. It’s more like a collection of bamboo branches tied together with string. Only once have I actually seen a real bamboo tree used – and that was for a legitimate festival.
2. Write your wish and attach it with string to the bamboo plant. It can be in Japanese or English. It can be on any color of paper. Sometimes when I’m bored around Tanabata (the trees usually go up about a week before) – I like to walk around and read people’s wishes. I know that sounds horrible, but it’s a great way to practice Japanese, and it’s pretty fun. There are common ones, like “I want to get into X-High School” (you have to take entrance exams for high schools in Japan), “I want to find a boyfriend/girlfriend,” and “I want to become prettier.” But then there are some uncommon ones that I can’t even begin to wonder. A lot of people ask for their brother/sister to pass their entrance exams, or other selfless things. Sometimes the wishes are completely random; about half the time I can’t understand them. But every time I read people’s Tanabata wishes, it restores my faith in humanity. It’s a humbling experience, and I think that’s why I like Tanabata so much.
It’s anonymous, so people can really write their hearts out. And so I went around on Tanabata and wrote my wish out as many times as I could. I hope one day it comes true.

But that’s the magic of Tanabata.
 Add me on Google Plus: +Grace Buchele

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