Lots of colours and a tragic love in the universe
One of most exotic festivals for the westerner’s eyes – with its glaring colours surely an almost not-Japanese appearing one – takes place every year in early August and is one of the oldest in the country. And also because it has such a long history, it knows perfectly how to confuse even those with a little knowledge of the Japanese language – just by the way its name is written and read. I know, we are not in a language school here, but the Tanabata Festival (七夕祭り / たなばたまつり) is much too beautiful an example for Japanese language confusion and the (comparative) easiness of its solution. Bear with me for a couple of lines – you’ll be rewarded with a big bunch of beautifully colourful pictures…
Usually, Tanabata is written “七夕” (with the characters for “7” and “evening”), even though neither of these Chinese characters are regularly read in a way that they would “sound” like “tana” and “bata”. So far – so confusing. However, the Chinese characters of the word give a clue to the origin of the festival, which is based on the Chinese “Qixi” festival that was celebrated annually on the 7th day of the 7th month of the moon calendar. It eventually found its way to Japan in the year 752 AD, when the empress Kōken brought it with her from China.
Here some impressions of the festival during daytime:
(click to enlarge!)
A second way of writing the word “Tanabata” looks like that: “棚機” and it’s really read “tanabata”. “Tana” meaning “shelf” and “bata” (or “hata” respectively) meaning “loom”. And that, in return, gives us a reference to the background of the festival. According to a legend there was a young weaver girl that fell in love with a young cowboy. But they were allowed to meet only once a year – on the said 7th day of the 7th month (otherwise, the young man would have diverted too much of the girl’s attention – attention she was supposed to pay to her loom). For the remainder of the year both youngsters were separated by our galaxy, the milkyway. And to make things even more galactic, the weaver girl was Orihimeboshi (織姫星 / おりひめぼし) literally: the star of the weaver princess – which is Vega in the constellation of Lyra. And the cowboy was Hikoboshi ( 彦星 / ひこぼし) , Altair in the constellation of Aquila.
Hence the Tanabata festival is being celebrated – now according to the Gregorian calendar – in the first week of August in order to participate in the joy the two young lovers feel after a year of separation.
During the Edo era the festival was integrated in the “obon” traditions (the celebrations and ceremonies to honour the dead that are being observed at the same time of the year) and further developped into its present appearance. Even though there are regional differences, it used to be a tradition on the occasion of the Tanabata festival girls were asking the gods for sewing skills and boys for a better hand writing (traditionally, that is…).
Have a look at the even livelier evening hours at the festival:
(click to enlarge!)
The photographs you can see here were taken at this year’s 62nd Tanabata Festival in Asagaya (阿佐ヶ谷 / あさがや), a quarter in Tōkyō’s Suginami district (杉並区 / すぎなみく), right at the Chūō/Sōbu line (中央/総武線 / ちゅうおう/そうぶせん). This festival may not be the biggest of its kind, but for those living in Tōkyō it is the easiest approachable one. Furthermore, it is the least influenced by the moods of mother nature, as it’s almost completely protected by the roofed shopping street that spans almost the complete southern part of Asagaya, the “Pearl Center” (パールセンター). And after having read the explanations above, you will also not have wondered any longer, why the ceiling of the shopping centre is covered with characters from the world of science fiction.
The most famous and maybe also biggest Tanabata Matsuri is the one in Sendai (仙台市 / せんだいし) in the north-eastern prefecture of Miyagi (宮城県 / みやぎけん). Also quite famous is the festival in Hiratsuka (平塚市 / ひらつかし) in the south of the prefecture of Kanagawa (神奈川県 / かながわけん).
Location of the event:
Tōkyō (東京 / とうきょう), Suginami-ku (杉並区 / すぎなみく), Asagaya Pearl Center (阿佐ヶ谷パールセンター / あさがやぱーるせんたー).
How to get there:
Take the Chūō/Sōbu line (中央/総武線 / ちゅうおう/そうぶせん) to Asagaya (阿佐ヶ谷 / あさがや) and turn left at the station’s south exit – you can’t miss the rather grand entrance to the “Pearl Center” (パールセンター).
Should you wish to walk your way from south to north, or maybe you’d rather take the Tōkyō Metro Marunouchi line (東京メトロ丸の内線 / とうきょうめとろまるのうちせん), take this subway line to Minami Asagaya (南阿佐ヶ谷 / みなみあさがや).
Schedule for the event (2015):
5 to 9 August
And since you are in Asagaya anyway, have a look at the north-side of the station – and be enticed by the :
Asagaya Shinmeigū (阿佐ヶ谷神明宮) (Bilder/Pictures)
– A gem in the middle of Tōkyō – where one would hardly suspect it