It’s not really Tanabata, technically it’s on August 7th this year (“the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the Japanese lunisolar calendar”). But there are celebrations between July 7th and August 7th so we’re in the range. I guess my title was clickbait…sorry! In my defence, I didn’t want to miss it. I wanted to wish you all that happiest of Tanabatas last year but I completely spazzed on the date and I had to wait a whole year for it to come around again. This time, I was determined to not make the same mistake. So here we are: Happy Tanabata to all of you!
There’s a chance you have only a vague idea what I’m talking about. Tanabata is a yearly celebration/festival in Japan. You’ve probably seen it illustrated in anime at some point. It’s the one where people write wishes on colourful pieces of paper and tie them to bamboo branches. It’s a plot point in Haruhi. We don’t exactly have bamboo forests in my neck of the maple woods, but I do have a small decorative plant in my office, and I make a point to tie a wish to it each year. It’s tiny so the paper is usually bigger than the plant. Wish BIG!
I’m going on and on about this because I have a particular liking for Tanabata. I read up on it when I saw Haruhi for the first time and was charmed by both the legend and the ritual of it. Having very few roots to speak of I don’t have many festive traditions to fall back on, so I occasionally adopt some. I was reminded of Tanabata when I noticed it was a heavy ongoing theme through Steins;Gate 0 but when I discussed it with friends, I realized not everyone is familiar with it. This is why I figured I’d share a bit about it with you all.
First of all, let’s start with the legend. In short, it’s the tale of Orihime which was the daughter on Tentei (i.e. the Jade Emperor). He’s a pretty important deity as far as they go. Oh, I guess it’s obvious already, but this is originally a Chinese legend. Much like my discussions of Journey to the West and Son Goku, I should say that I am basterdising and casualising these legends a lot. I do so out of love. I am a big fan of Eastern mythology and have nothing but respect for it. Back to the story.
Orihime was a fairly modern woman for the time and she actually had something of a career. She was a weaver, and an exceptional one at that. Her father was particularly fond of her work. (This sounds familiar). All of that was well and good but since she spent all her time working, Orihime had no time left over for her love life and she was a bit lonely. Seeing this, Tentei decided to help in that mettlesome way parents have and set her up on a blind date with Hikoboshi (I’m going to call him a cattle deity).
You may think this went terribly wrong because that’s how these stories often go but no, well at least not right away. Orihime and Hikoboshi fell madly in love at first sight and quickly decided to get married. I guess sometimes father knows best! Except they were a bit too in love. Orihime stopped weaving to concentrate on her new adorable hubby and Hikoboshi let his cows just wander all around Heaven because he was too busy spoiling Orihime. Awww…but also oh no!
Tentei was not exactly thrilled by this. Sure, his daughter was happy but she was turning into a NEET. He wasn’t getting any more of those beautiful weaves he loved so much, (yeah I know it’s not weaves but I thought the mental picture was funny) and on top of that there were cows just everywhere. Tentei got pretty peeved at the youngsters’ lack of discipline so he separated them, sending one on each side of the Amanogawa river. Orihime was absoluteluy distraught so she cried and cried until her father finally agreed that the two lovers could see each other once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month (i.e. Tanabata). However, when their first yearly meeting was set to take place, there was no bridge to cross the river. So Orihime started crying once more (hey, it worked last time) so much that the magpies took pity on her and created a bridge with their wings. It’s said that if it rains of Tanabata, the river’s waters swell and the birds can’t form the bridge, so the lovers can’t see each other that year.
Cute story no. Star-crossed lovers torn apart by their respective careers. It’s just so contemporary for a story that dates back to the 750s.
As for the ritual of it, I pretty much explained it already. Each year, people write wishes, sometimes as poems because of course they would, on colourful papers that they tie to bamboo threes. It makes everything bright and decorated. How they ritual ties into the story is a bit nebulous for me and I know a lot of it is influenced by Obon traditions so there may have been some mixing and matching over the centuries.
I can’t say I have a deep kinship with the tradition of Tanabata. I’ve made it pretty obvious I know very little about it. But I like the idea of offering up wishes. Of decorating the world with your hopes. There is no actual template for the wishes, but people are often selfless, wishing for world peace or and end to hunger. That sort of thing. It’s softly optimistic.
A festival that celebrates a story of love and devotion to duty and has a relatively happy ending, with the sharing of colourful wishes. It speaks to me as an idea.
As such, I hope you all have a happy Tanabata and that your wishes come true, in a happy non monkey paw sort of way. I wish that your hard work pays off and that the rain doesn’t keep you away from what’s most important to you!