Happy Tanabata! 幸せ七夕!

People usually write wishes (お願い) for Tanabata and tie them to a bamboo branch. My wish this year: "I want to pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Exam".

People usually write wishes (お願い) for Tanabata and tie them to a bamboo branch. My wish this year: “I want to pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Exam”.

There are many festivals celebrated throughout the year in Japan. However many festivals exist in Japan, there is only one fixed festival that honors the representation of stars: hopeful wishes.

Tanabata (たなばた, 七夕), or the Star Festival, is celebrated every year on July 7th all over Japan with local variations. It honors the legend of two lovers separated by the Milky Way. Fortunately, the lovers, Cowherd Star, or Altair, and Weaver Star, or Vega, are allowed to meet once a year on the evening of July 7th.

The legend, which is derived from a Chinese  folktale known in Japanese as Kikkoden (きっこでん, 乞巧奠), is about a cow herder named Hikoboshi and a weaver princess, Orihime, who played together so much, they forgot their duties, upsetting the king. In response, the king separated Hikoboshi and Orihimi by a river called Amanogawa River, or the Milky Way. However, Orihimi begged the king to allow her to see Hikoboshi again, so the king set aside one day for them to meet. Though tanabata’s legendary story is one about two lovers, the festival itself is a time where wishes are asked to come true.

During tanabata, people write their wishes onto small and colorful strips of paper called tanzaku (たんざく, 短冊). Once the tanzaku are hung onto bamboo stalks or trees and displayed in their yards and home entrances, people pray for their wishes to come true. The next day, the decorations with the tanzaku are released into oceans, rivers, or streams. Colored streamers are also used to show off the tanabata spirit around the neighborhood. Other decorations include a casting net, or toami (とあみ, 投網), for good luck in fishing and farming, and a purse, or kinchaku (きんちゃく, 巾着), for wealth and good business.

Each area of Japan celebrates tanabata differently. Several areas light torches as part of the celebration, while others use horse-shaped puppets instead of bamboo stalks for displaying their tanazaku. Though tanabata is largely celebrated on July 7th, some areas of Japan celebrate tanabata on August 7th alongside the ancestral summer holiday, Bon (ぼん, 盆), which honors the return of the family’s ancestors. Outside of Bon, some cities couple tanabata with another celebration. Aomori of the Touhoku Region also celebrates the star festival with the Nebuta (ねぶた) Festival, parading lanterns made of papier-mache alongside customary tanabata decorations.

Amongst all of the tanabata celebrations, Sendai of the Miyagi Prefecture and Hiratsuka of the Kanagawa Prefecture are known to have elaborate tanabata events. Because of this, Sendai and Hiratsuka have become tourist attractions during the month of July.

With the exception of the original tale, tanabata is one of Japan’s celebrations where hopes and wishes are requested in full festival fashion.

Sources:

Japan National Tourism Organization. “Tanabata (Star Festival)”. http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/indepth/history/traditionalevents/a69a_fes_tanabata.html.

Renshaw, Steve and Saori Ihara. (1999). “Orihime, Kengyuu, and Tanabata: Adapting Chinese Lore to Native Beliefs and Purposes”. Appulse; Bulletin for the Philippine Astronomical Society. Vol. 9:8. August, 1996. http://www2.gol.com/users/stever/orihime.htm.

“Tanabata”. Kids Web Japan. http://web-japan.org/kidsweb/explore/calendar/july/tanabata.html .

“Tanabata”. Leighton Buzzard Childminding Association. http://www.lbcma.org.uk/festivals/Mtanabata.asp.

“Tanabata”. (2007) Encyclopedia of Shinto. Kokugakuin University. Tokyo, Japan.
http://eos.kokugakuin.ac.jp/modules/xwords/entry.php?entryID=1057.

5 Things I Carry From Reading Rainbow

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I was humming in the copy room, and Reading Rainbow popped into my head. I couldn’t help but smile. I love Reading Rainbow! From the theme song (below) to LeVar Burton (Roots, Star Trek: The Next Generation) to each book, I fell in love with the show. Reading Rainbow taught me many useful things, some things that I still carry into my adulthood.

 The theme song was inspirational. “I can go anywhere” and “I can be anything” inspired me to believe in myself, especially as someone who liked to read. When I was in fourth grade, I realized that most of my classmates hated reading, and if you read, you had a big “Pick on me” sign on your forehead. The first time I heard Reading Rainbow‘s theme song, I realized that it was OK to read. It was a catchy, cool theme song (up there with the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Family Matters). I believed in it. I could go anywhere and I could be anything–as long as I was reading. Reading gave me the friends I didn’t have, took me places my family couldn’t go, taught me lessons that my parents couldn’t teach. To me, Reading Rainbow said, “It’s not only OK to read. It’s great to read!” As an English teacher, I encourage my students and colleagues to read books.

I’ve been using folded paper cups for over ten years. I learned how to fold paper cups when I was in fifth grade. My English teacher put on an episode of Reading Rainbow, LeVar folded a paper cup and put water in it, and we followed suit. When I got home that day, I showed my mom how to make a paper cup, and she commented, “Oh, this can hold more than water.” Eighteen years later in Japan, I use folded paper cups to hold game pieces, stickers, and laminated papers.

My mom is really a Chinese descendant or she knows the value of woks. My Filipino mom always used a big wok for making pancit (Filipino noodles), and I always wondered, “Why does Mom use that gigantic pot? Is she the wicked witch from Hansel and Gretel?” When I watched an episode with LeVar in the Mandarin Inn Pell (above), I remembered my mother saying, “Oh, we’re Chinese descent,” before going on about her roots and Buddha. Now as an adult, I plan to use a wok because it heats the food evenly–and I get to say, “It woks!”

Mummies taught me to love mythology. Episodes about Egypt, like “Mummies Made in Egypt” (above), was a gateway into Egyptian mythology. By the time I hit seventh grade, I loved Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, and my knowledge of them was vast for an eleven year old. When I was a sophomore in high school, I joined a quiz league (not Decathlon) as the mythology expert. Now that I’m a high school teacher, I don’t study mythology anymore, but it does influence the stories I write.

Cultures are awesome! Growing up in a homogeneous area (either black or white people), “culture” was a word that made people uncomfortable. My brothers and I were the only half-black, half-Filipino kids in our side of town, and for some reason, I always felt that my parents were trying to down-play our differences. We weren’t sure what to do about ourselves. It was important for me and my brothers to see LeVar–a black man–appreciating different cultures–Chinese, Japanese, Native American, you name it. I learned that it was OK to respect other cultures no matter what your skin color said.

Reading Rainbow isn’t on TV anymore, but it’s still around for the old and new generations of kids to love. But you don’t have to take my word for it.