Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tanabata- The Star Festival

Our first chance to experience a Japanese festival came on 7th of July. It is the day of  Tanabata or Star Festival in Japan. People celebrate the day at home and in schools. Many cities and towns hold festivals and have Tanabata displays decorating the main streets. We saw some outside restaurants and at some homes in our locality.  In some regions, people light lanterns and float them on the river, or float bamboo leaves on the river.

A friend told me that the festival traces its origins to a legend . It is said that the Cowherd Star (Altair) and Weaver Star (Vega), separated by the Milky Way, are allowed to meet just once a year-on the seventh day of the seventh month each year. Tanabata originated more than 2000 years ago with an tale called Kikkoden. Once there was a weaver princess named Orihime and a cow herder prince named Hikoboshi After they got together, they were playing all the time and forgot their jobs. The king was angry and separated them on opposite sides of the Amanogawa River (Milky Way). The king allowed them to meet only once a year on July 7th from then on.

In Japan, people write their wishes on narrow strips of coloured paper and hang them, along with other paper ornaments, on trees or bamboo branches placed in the backyards or entrances of their homes. They then pray hard that their wishes will come true. The most common Tanabata decorations are colourful streamers. Streamers are said to symbolise the weaving of threads. Other common decorations are Toami (casting net), which means good luck for fishing and farming and Kinchaku (bag), which means wealth.

Our daughter Aarushi attends a Japanese kindergarten . It is through her that we often get to learn new things about Japan and its culture. She got to celebrate this festival in the kindergarten . They decorated a big bamboo tree for each class with many branches and each branch was for a child. At the end of the day, they sent home a branch of the bamboo decorated with Aarushi's help with wishes for her. Aarushi's wishes were to have happiness playing with friends  This bamboo branch is called Tanabata-san .

Now a days fewer people and mostly the schools celebrate the festival on the actual day – 7th July. Each place now has moved this date to suit the summer vacation in that region. Iwaki city has designated August 6th to 8th as the Tanabata festival. On this day the city centre Taira is transformed completely. These three days are the days of the Taira festival. There is open market  from 10 am to 10 pm on these three days . There are colourful hangings all over the place.

Colourful lanterns from the top reaching to the ground make it a colourful sight.

Each street is lined with hundreds of stalls selling food, toys, trinkets , game stalls , music etc .

 The streets are crowded with people of all categories. There are school girls hanging around with friends, giggling at young boys their age, families out to enjoy together, parents clicking pictures of their young ones posing next to the stuffed dolls of their favourite anime characters. It is a wonderful sight as you see lot of people in Yukata- the summer kimonos with the lovely accessories .

 Reminds us of the lovely Japanese dolls that most visitors to Japan carry back home. It is so crowded that for the first time I realized that Iwaki is home to so many people ! Offcourse the crowd has people from nearby towns and cities visiting to enjoy the festival.

The festival is a wonderful way to experience the festive spirit , have some delicious street food , and see some lovely sights. Definitely not to be missed if you happen to be in Iwaki around this time of the year.

Date; August 6th to 8th each year
Venue: Taira - near Iwaki Station

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