Monday, July 07, 2008

Tanabata Memories

Today, July 7th is called Tanabata, the Star Festival, in Japan. It is believed to be the only night of the year that two lovers Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altiar) can meet. For the rest of the year, they are separated by a river made of stars, the Milky Way.

Once again borrowing from Wikipedia, one of the stories goes like this;

"A young farmer named Mikeran discovered on his farm a robe which, unbeknownst to him, belonged to a goddess named Tanabata. Soon after, Tanabata visited Mikeran and asked if he had found it. He lied and told the goddess that he hadn't but would help with her search. Eventually the pair fell in love, were wed and had many children. However, one day Tanabata noticed a piece of cloth which had once belonged to her robe on the roof of Mikeran's hut. His lie discovered, Tanabata agreed to forgive him on the condition that he weave a thousand pairs of straw shoes, but until that time, she would leave him. Mikeran was unable to weave the shoes in his lifetime and thus never met Tanabata again. However, it is said that the pair meet once a year when the stars Altair and Vega intersect."

To celebrate the festival, many Japanese write their wishes on coloured strips of paper and hang them on branches of bamboo. It looks a bit like a summer Christmas tree.

This year, I haven't been to any of the Tanabata festivals, and in fact my town actually celebrates in on August 8th. I find it interesting that the Girl's Festival is on the 3/3, the Boy's on the 5/5, Tanabata on the 7/7 and in my town the 8/8. Does anyone know why?

Many years ago, I went to the Tanabata festival in Ichinomiya City with a couple of friends, a fellow Aussie girl and a Japanese guy. Through the covered streets of the shopping mall, brightly coloured streamers fluttered in the summer breeze. People were dressed in summer yukata kimonos and there were lots of yummy festival food stalls to enjoy. There were also many gangs, rival gangs at that.

These weren't scary yakuza gangs, but rather younger guys, yakuza wanna-be or yakuza in training. Whatever their future may have held, I found them funny and cute. They were all dressed up in their matching uniforms of sorts and just hanging out. I wanted a photo of them and so not even considering there could be anything to fear, just went up to take some photos. My fellow Aussie came and joined me. Our Japanese friend froze in terror. He told us later that he was scared for our safety, but running through his head was "if anything happens, do I try to save the girls, or do I make a run for it?". He never did tell us if he decided which was the best option.

The gang leader however, was more than happy to pose with us and I have a great shot of his friendly grin and "peace" sign.

The police however, did not find the gangs so cute. There were many of them there on the night, decked out in full riot gear. If I was on the streets of Melbourne or LA, I would have been terrified. But instead, I found the short, slim policemen kinda cute, a bit like little boys pretending to be big scary men. The police decided it was time to move the gangs on, but the gangs didn't want to move. In their bullet proof vests, face shields down and batons striking on shields they held in front of their chests, they formed a strong line and slowly moved forward.

Again, much to our Japanese friend's distress, my Aussie friend and I thought it was a perfect photo opportunity. Somewhere (sadly I think it's back in Australia) I have this fabulous shot of her doing a very happy, cutesy pose in front of the line of riot police and one officer screaming in her ear "Abunai!" (it's dangerous).

I know I should remember the stories and traditions of Tanabata, but for me, it will forever be the image of my friend's cheeky grin in the face of "danger".


Mary-Laure said...

Thanks for this informative post. The picture is FABULOUS.
I was lucky to spend a summer in Japan some 10 years ago, fell in love with the country and hope I can go back one day.

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Hi! Thanks for visiting my blog and for the lovely comment. Japan is certainly a fabulous place to visit (and live), I really hope you do get back here one day.

Jamaipanese said...

*sob* i wish i can go one day

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

I'm sure you'll get here one day, I really hope you do!

billywest said...


It's amazing how people really misunderstand each other here. And, it's amazing how much someone's image can stike fear into the hearts of others.

By the way, your blog is featured at this cool, new site called

Anonymous said...

This is totally off topic, but I was wondering how you got a job teaching at a private school? Is there a specific application process?

Syahiran Samsuddin said...

The festival sounded fun.Besides 7hb July is my birthday. i wish i could celebrate my birthday in Japan someday!! Double celebration,perhaps

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Hey Billywest, wow! Thanks for the heads up on that! I'll just go and check it out now.

Hey Casey and Crysti, I'll try to contact you through your blog, but feel free to email me (my address is on the blog). There will be a couple of jobs going to start next April.

Hey Syahiran, belated happy birthday! Hopefully you will get to celebrate it in Japan one day.

Stephen said...

Stopping by from Englishman's blog. I had a good laugh at this story. Hope you can post the pictures some time!

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Thanks for stopping by Steven. Sadly, I think the photos are back in Oz, so they won't be posted for a very long while...

Natalie said...

it makes me wish i could go there.
i'm learning japanese now.