Tanabata in August

Walking between the lanterns and bamboo trees set out for Tanabata, a man gazes up at the mural hanging above the temple.

There is an old Japanese (and even older Chinese) legend called Tanabata, that tells of the one night a year when two lovers, Orihime and Hikoboshi, separated by the Milky Way, are reunited. The custom goes that wishes made during Tanabata will be granted.

From late July, long branches of  (rapidly drying) bamboo were propped up before businesses in the main shopping areas of Hikone: draped in paper decorations, many with summer themed pictures of watermelons or gold fish, and hung with colourful strips of rectangular plastic, mimicking the papers which people write their wishes. Christmas decorations were coopted, and Hikone became tinsel covered and fairy-light lit.

A young family poses with their wishes under the lanterns.

The kanji, 七夕, contains the number 7, so in most parts of Japan Tanabata is celebrated on the 7th of July. According to the lunar calendar however, the date is in August which is when some cities, like Sendai and Hikone, hold their festivities.

While many homes and kindergartens set up their own trees, in the week preceding August 4th, Souanji Temple, which I have mentioned before, freely provides all the paper, pens and bamboo trees, without the mess of leaves cluttering up your apartment.

Grandparents posing with their young grandchild amongst the wishes.

Finding the right place to hang the wish.

A wish hanging from the bamboo.

Outside Souanji, the Yukata festival was in full swing, people crowding the yatai (food stalls) and watching dancers on stage. Inside the Buddhist temple however, families reflected on their hopes for the coming year, lit candles and prayed.

A young boy lights a stick of incense, and successfully avoids singing his yukata.

Dear Buddha…

Ok, that’s done, back to bouncing large wrist-ball (why do parents buy things that will only cause them/nearby people grief?)

The full moon competes with the lanterns.

Incense sticks burning softly

Walking amongst the bamboo, I remembered my last tanabata when I worked in an Ibaraki preschool. My wish for fine weather for a BBQ that weekend was granted. This time, as I considered, I overheard a father dictating out to his son, the pleasant, broad wish for universal happiness, and modeled mine to be similarly nice, (slightly less ambitious) and general.

What you have you written on the Tanabata tree?

My wish for summer

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